Liberating Provinces

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Last night I played what I would consider a truly excessive amount of Skyforge on the PS4.  There was even a point where I left my office upstairs… and logged into laptop downstairs to play more Skyforge over Remote Play.  I am not entirely certain why this game is so damned sticky for me right now…  when arguably better games like Horizon are not at this moment.  My working theory however is that I can only really handle playing one deeply narrative experience at a time…  then need the gaming equivalent of celery to clear my palate.  Skyforge makes an awesome version of celery…  which is probably not at all what the folks behind the game would want me saying about it.  However what I mean by that is that it presents a sequence of bite sized interactions and does so in a fairly enjoyable and no nonsense manner.  Functionally in the past this is always what I used Destiny for, but with the impending death of that game and the release of Destiny 2 in September…  that has really harmed my joy about spending a whole lot of time over there.  I mean sure I want to do all the raiding stuff in the new and improved 390 light versions…  but that also requires a lot of personal investment in trying to figure out what my clans schedule is like and how I can manipulate my own schedule to somehow be playing Destiny in the nights they are doing the things I need to do.  That was one long contorted sentence but it fairly adequately represents how I am feeling about raiding in general right now regardless of the game.

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I think one of the big improvements that happened at some point…  and is probably not directly tied to the console release is the campaign map.  When I last played the game you functionally went to the Aeleon observatory and would be presented with a number of chicklet sized images that represented missions you could run.  It felt like there was no real clear order to which you should be taking the content… and as a result I wound up skipping around something horribly and subjecting myself to things that were probably much harder than I should have.  The campaign make takes the game and attempts to make a clear narrative, so instead of playing a god answering 911 calls from various parts of an entire planet…   you are on a campaign to liberate your people from the invading monsters.  Functionally right now I am about halfway through the first fourth province in the sequence of nine provinces, and as of last night… I had barely just left the first one.  There are what seems to be four types of content that you can encounter during this process.  First there are solo missions that largely involve killing a bunch of mini bosses until you reach the end and ultimately drive the monster influence from an area.  The next type is solo boss fights, and these have been pretty rare…  but occasionally you are sent up against some sort of “big bad”.  Thirdly there are large open world zones where you are ultimately dumped in with a random assortment of other players to complete a bunch of mini objectives.  Lastly there are actual proper dungeons that require a group of adventurers to complete…  and unfortunately as of yet I have not actually done one of these.

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Last night I focused entirely on the solo mission/bossfight types along the main path of the campaign map, and completely ignored the dungeons and large open world areas…  because they simply take a bunch of time to get through and don’t actually serve to unlock new areas of the map.  I had a purpose in mind, and that single focus was to get to a temple for a class that I had not already unlocked.  The reasoning being that I wanted to know just what madness was involved with getting something other than the base three classes unlocked.  Sure enough by the time I hit map three I had access to the Archer temple…  where I was prompted with two options [Purchase] and [Donate 3,000,000 Credits].  I tried the purchase option and it acted like it was sending me to the Sony store… only to error out a short period of time later.  As far as Credits go…  at first I thought that was sheer madness but by the time I finished the night I was sitting at around 1.5 million Credits.  Sure it is going to suck to unlock all of the classes you might want to play, but it seems like there is going to be a time in the near future where 3 mil credits is no big deal.  The purchase option however has me confused because it seems like at least on some level the game is wired to let you buy your way into a specific class.  However for whatever reason this does not seem to function on the console…  which is making me want to fire up the PC client just to see how the hell it works there.  Whatever the case however… I am finding this game extremely enjoyable at the moment and if you can get past its flaws…  atrocious boob jiggle and being limited to 3 classes at the start…  I am hooked.

Pretentious Magitek

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This morning my cats are being little butts.  The normally sweet one is prancing back and forth on the keyboard… and the one that is normally a butt just wants me to keep flinging a rubber band for her to chase.  None of this is really conducive to sitting down and writing a proper blog post.  The sweet one has now taken to sitting on the cabinet to the left of the computer and staring…  occasionally meowing.  She is likely afraid that she will waste away to nothingness in the time it takes me to write a post, and believes that I really should stop doing whatever it is humans do and go feed her.  On top of this I am having some hardware issues…  with a box that is not connected to this one but it is frustrating me to the point where I am constantly reaching over to the other keyboard and fiddling with stuff.  This also is not super great for writing a fully functional blog post.  However I still need to somehow push forward and come up with some form of brilliance…  even if that is dollar store brilliance that is on clearance for only 50 cents.

Last night I did not really do much in the way of gaming.  I finally finished watching the last episode of Iron Fist, and while doing so I worked on my baby machinist.  I managed to get back over the 60 barrier and turned my weapon red in the Palace of the Dead…  which makes no difference when it comes to the speed of leveling but feels like it does significantly for your ability to burn things down quickly.  I hit a string of parties with a tank and three dps…. and all things considered they tend to go pretty smoothly.  The only rough spots are when the group decides to fan out and split down different pathways.  In theory this is not a horrible way to approach the dungeon as a whole, but if anyone ends up pulling a mimic it is a certainty that someone will get pox.  As I have spent more time in the dungeon, my focus has shifted to trying to avoid pox at all costs…  at least until we have a pomander of purity waiting to be used.  Most of my wipes in Palace of the Dead have revolved around a bad pull combined with folks having pox.  The absolute worst moments are when a tank attempts to tank….  without having a healer.  I mean I get it… as a tank our instinct is to run in and gather everything up.  However that is just not really a viable option for running Palace of the Dead unless you have a pocket healer going in there with you.

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Another thing that has happened that I have not really talked about is that I crossed the 500 commendation barrier and now have my giant pretentious golden magitek armor.  I admit I was a little disappointed when I found out that the tune it plays is exactly the same as the normal magitek armor.  The weird thing about the commendation system is that it pushes me to be friendly even if I am not really feeling like doing so.  I tend to open every dungeon with a “hey folks” and close every dungeon with something along the lines of “thanks for the run, have a good one”.  I am not sure if this matters but I usually can at least steal a single commendation from each run.  Now my friends who random queue more often have been at the 500 mark for a very long time…  I largely pushed through the last 150 or so while dungeon the deep dungeon.  It feels like “strategic niceness” is a thing, and I feel sorta dirty admitting that sometimes I am just doing it for the sweet sweet comms.  The only problem is… even after having gotten the mount I am still keeping up the practice.  I think at some point it just began to feel normal to greet people when you join a dungeon and thank them when you finish…  so while this largely started out as a way to leech commendations from folks it has apparently become a ritual now for me.  This in part is why I wish other games would implement something like the commendations system.  I’ve noticed that while a lot of groups are completely silent…  that practice of the greeting at the beginning breaks the ice enough to get people discussing things if we run into problems.  Folks seem far less likely to sit on a mimic chest and try and solo it down for example, when they have talked at the start of a run.  It is like the act of a simple greeting makes it perfectly okay to say other things later, and while I tend to zone out…  it is nice to have the occasional line of dialog flying by in party.

Chasing Aloy

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It feels odd that it is Wednesday and I am just now getting around to writing one of my traditional “mixed bag” sort of posts.  Those are generally a Monday thing given that I have a bunch of gaming time to talk about in general, and almost always it is a shotgun blast across a bunch of different games.  However Monday was the anniversary post, and yesterday I wanted to write up my final thoughts upon beating Andromeda… so finally we are where we are writing about the assorted debris of the weekend.  If you had talked to me last week, you would have seen someone who was excited to be finishing up Andromeda so I could move back to Horizon Zero Dawn as my primary game.  While I have played it a few times…  that hasn’t really been what happened because for whatever reason I am having a bit of trouble easing back into the game.  Essentially it feels like the skills I had developed early on are painfully rusty, and the section of the game I am in doesn’t have nearly as much call to purpose so I feel a little bit like I am either stuck in “roam around aimlessly and kill zoids” mode, or trying to force my way through the few story quests I have.  The last town I reached gave me a slew of side quests, so in theory I will probably spend some time doing those to try and get myself reacquainted with the game.  The frustrating part about this is I do not want to be bouncing off of it… but for whatever case it just hasn’t quite fit my mood.  Maybe coming off Mass Effect Andromeda… I just sort of need to play a vastly different kind of game.

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The game I am playing a truly shocking amount of instead is Skyforge.  Pretty much every night I am at least getting in long enough to run a few missions.  Right now I find the bite sized gameplay appealing because there is no massive overarching commitment.  I can pop in for a few minutes and play a little bit, while feeling like I had a meaningful experience.  I had talked the game up to some of my friends and was super saddened to find out that apparently the female models are a boob jiggle mess.  I mean I knew that was a thing among the South Korean developers… but I didn’t know it was a Russian thing as well.  The other big problem with the game is that you ultimately have a long list of interesting classes….  but no easy way to access them.  You functionally have to start the game as a Paladin, a Smite Nuking Healer, or a Ice Mage… and then work your way to whatever class seemed interesting.  For me this was just perfectly fine given that I really like the Paladin as a class, and ultimately will probably always play it as my main in the game.  However I have a lot of friends who were interested in other classes but are never going to make it through the grind to ultimately get there.  I am shocked that you cannot simply buy your way to freedom in the game and unlock whatever class you really wanted to play…  or better yet allow characters to pick any single class to start with.  I mean the game has some really interesting classes like an Alchemist, the Kinetic, or Gunner…  so there is a lot of interesting stuff going on but unfortunately if you don’t like tank, mage and healer… you are going to bounce super hard before you get there.

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Finally I have been still popping my head into Final Fantasy XIV on a regular basis and working on my overarching mission…  which is to get all of the classes to at least 50 before the release of Stormblood.  I’ve set 50 as the goal because it allows me to jettison the bulk of the leveling gear from my bank vault, and reaching that level seems completely reasonable with Palace of the Dead.  Over the weekend I managed to push the Monk to 50, and am now sporting the full set of Allagan look-a-like gear that I have been picking up through the dank dungeon.  I like the set quite a bit because it is one of the few “armored” looking sets that you can get for a monk.  We had this lengthy discussion the other day about how we each favor different styles, and for me… it needs to be symmetrical and heavily armored to really make me perfectly happy.  What is left on the leveling track is Machinist and Astrologian… neither of which I had even trained in.  I picked up the Machinist from Ishgard and almost immediately hopped back into the Palace of the Dead rather than doing any of the actual class quests.  I have to mention that it was a bit of a chore to sort out what all abilities I should actually be using with that class… and how it functions.  However once getting used to it, I have to say I like it quite a bit.  It is gimmicky and RNG gated…  and I still have no clue if I am actually playing it correctly…  but for casual dungeon running it seems like a lot of fun.

Final Thoughts: Andromeda

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This weekend I managed to finish Mass Effect Andromeda.  While I did not come close to hundred-percenting the game, I still feel like I touched all of the important bits.  Andromeda divides up its quests in a number of logical chunks:  Priority Ops, Allies and Relationships, Heleus Assignments, and Additional Tasks.  Priority Ops is functionally everything you need to do to finish the game.  Allies and Relationships are tasks you are doing for your crew or other significant individuals and organizations within the Andromeda Galaxy.  Heleus Assignments are for lack of a better term the equivalent of planetary missions from SWTOR, and anything you pick up for a specific planet ends up getting filed here.  Lastly there are a number a busywork items that get filed into the Additional Tasks bin… and I largely think of these as Daily Quests from the MMO genre.  According to the game I am sitting at 92% completion, and that is from doing all of the first three categories of quests and largely ignoring the last category…  unless I happened to complete it while doing something else at the same time.  All told according to Origin I have played 90 hours of gameplay, some of that being with the headstart and then continuing on into the release client.  I am going to do my best to avoid any major spoilers about the game, but functionally…  you cannot really talk about your experience without at least giving some minor details.

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Mass Effect Andromeda had the deck stacked against it before we even set foot in the game.  What I mean by this is the fact that the original Mass Effect trilogy is among the most loved gaming properties in history.  The number of N7 hoodies and car stickers that I see out in the wild is pretty staggering that I live in a section of fly over country that is not exactly known for its geek friendliness.  In truth I personally think that if they ever made the original Mass Effect trilogy into a science fiction television show that over the course of its run chronicles the events of the entire series…  you would have a hit on your hands that would eclipse Game of Thrones by a large margin.   So that said… trying to come in on the heels of that game and creating something that is going to ultimately keep up… and hopefully replace it…  is just largely a suicidal proposal.  The game had issues out of the gate and while the most recent patched fixed  most of the ones that were bothering me…  it is still the younger sibling of a child star, the Kieran to Macaulay Culkin.  This is not exactly a fatal flaw mind you, because as time has gone I’ve come to realize that Kieran Cuklin is the much better actor…  drawing out this analogy that horrifically dates me.

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Regardless of how good the end product is…  there is still an awful lot of awkward that you are going to have to wade through until you reach the tipping point of caring about the game more than you care about the ephemera.  For me that point was about eight to ten hours into the game, which in itself is a hefty commitment for a game that has not fully grabbed you at that point.  The larger problem is that Bioware in general is extremely hit and miss about indoctrinating you into their worlds.  There is often times this odd chrysalis phase of the game, where it is trying to introduce you to new elements and characters and figure out ways to make you care about them.  It seems to be the case each time we enter a few franchise, so Mass Effect 1 suffered from it… but 2 and 3 were able to draw on the fact that you probably played the first and they did not need to give you a fully fleshed origin story as introduction.  The Dragon Age franchise unfortunately has had awkward beginnings each time because they have yet to give us a true sequel, jumping us into new characters and new perspectives for each game.  Mass Effect Andromeda similarly is plagued with a whole lot of awkward front loaded into the game…  as it attempts to induct us into a new universe filled with hundreds of new characters for us to start caring about.  This is not made any easier by the fact that the Pathfinder is very much NOT Shepard in any fashion, so it takes those first dozen hours to really let that fact sink in.

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Prior to Andromeda my top Mass Effect games list would have gone a little something like this: 2, 3, 1.  One gets downgraded so heavily because it had an extremely awkward control scheme…  and Kaidan Alenko.  When it comes time in a play through I gleefully sacrifice Kaidan to the pages of History knowing that for the sake of my crew I am going to have to pretend that I cared.  After playing Andromeda the new list looks much the same…  just with Andromeda prepended on the beginning.  If you place any weight in the Bartle types… I am of split brain with heavy focuses on both Killer and Explorer and as a result respond extremely favorably to open world situations where I get to run amok.  Much of the reason why I liked Mass Effect 2 so much, is that there is a large sequence where you go on small character building missions and it allows you to delay the inevitable “rush to the end” that always happens in this sort of game.  Part of what makes exploring these large planets such a joy however is the introduction to the Nomad…  the vehicle we needed since the first Mass Effect.  I never really got into the Mako because it had the handling of a small city…  and the Hammerhead was a cool idea that was frustratingly constrained to a bunch of mini-game levels.  The Nomad on the other hand is your constant companion as you wander the planets providing protection from the worst the atmospheres have to offer and through the jump jets and rocket boosts gives you the ability to scale absolutely crazy obstacles.  As you can see from the above image, you can totally tear donuts or slide out on the ice if you so choose.  I absolutely sacrificed weapon and armor upgrades just to be able to craft more nifty addons for my Nomad.

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It is impossible to talk about a Mass Effect game without at least hitting on the story.  For better or worse the original Mass Effect trilogy was largely the tale of the entire world slowly going to shit.  You and your crew from the moment you set foot in the universe are fighting a losing battle.  While you might win battles, you are ultimately losing the war…  and each game gets a little darker than the previous one.  There is of course some nobility and honor in being constantly the underdog, and it provides some excellent character building opportunities…  but it is a fixed path and you sort of know it while going through the game.  Mass Effect Andromeda however has a vastly different tone.  The world is complete shit at the beginning of the game, and everything that could have gone wrong seemingly has.  However over the course of your missions you are setting forth to build this better world for future generations.  There is a hopefulness in this game that is largely absent in the previous offerings, and given how generally shit our world is right now…  it is needed.  The wish fulfillment of setting forth into a new Galaxy to make a better future is extremely tangible… and the fact that the game then allows you to start making things better from the first planet you touch down on is extremely important.  So while I am not Shepard…  over time I came to grow into Ryder and figure out how exactly I would approach the game.  There has been a lot of frustration around the lack of the Paragon/Renegade system…  but in truth I largely found it too limiting.  There were times I just wanted to be a smartass, without actually going full asshole…  and this game allows me to do that.  What is lacking however is from what I can tell the ability to play a horrible human being…  and I am largely fine with that.

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The main story arc covers everything that I want from a Mass Effect game.  You have evil races hell bent on your destruction, ancient technologies that you have to master…  and the promise of lots of interesting story vignettes along the way as you introduce yourself to an entirely new galaxy.  It is a glorious space opera and the final “rush to the end” sequence is one of the coolest I have seen in literally any video game.  It is reminiscent of the earth landing sequence in Mass Effect 3, and once you have started things up…  you functionally have to strap in and enjoy the ride because there is no stopping the final act of the game.  That is really all I can say without deeply spoiling the game, and I have danced around the edges of saying more throughout writing this post.  The one thing that I really want to talk about that this game does amazing well is the post ending.  Most games like this offer you some way of completing everything you missed after you have actually gone off to fight whatever malevolent force is set against you.  The problem is that in almost all cases they do some sort of hand wavy bullshit of returning you to a moment BEFORE the final fight… and allowing you to finish things up pretending like the fact moments of the game never happened.  Mass Effect Andromeda however lets you continue on with the entire world knowing that you defeated the big bad, and things are subtly altered in the world as a result.  This gives me an awful lot of hope that maybe just maybe the DLC for this game is going to literally extend the game much like an MMO, and it would be amazing if they helped to lay the ground work between this game and whatever the inevitable sequel happens to be.  At this point I desperately want more game to explore, and while I could roam around doing tasks…  I am figuring it is time for me to move on for now.  It was a great experience and once I got past some of the awkward windowe dressing…  I feel like this is probably the best crafted Bioware RPG to date.

Eight Years of Aggronaut

You would think that over time I would get considerably better at doing this sort of thing, but in truth I still struggle to find inspiration on a regular basis.  This is a little funny considering that as of this morning I have been writing on Tales of the Aggronaut for eight years.  Last year there was an awful lot of pomp around the seventh anniversary, and I even got my good friend Ammo to do some artwork for the site as a result.  The problem with doing anything for eight years, is that after awhile you start to question if you are just simply repeating yourself in cycles.  I cannot tell you the number of times I sit down to write a post… and then have to google my own blog to see if I have actually already written this post before somewhere in the past.  In truth I have a sort of amnesia when it comes to writing things on this blog.  I sit down each morning and bang out a post, pouring my thoughts into each post…  and then as soon as I hit post the memory of having written it just sort of floats away.  I question sometimes if this blog is more therapy than exposition, because at this point I am not entirely certain I could really stop writing.  This is now a part of me and ingrained that I need to sit down each morning and attempt to say something meaningful.

This year saw me dialing things back a little however and breaking my daily blogging routine and shifting up the format to be weekly posts.  In truth this has been something extremely positive for me as a writer and a human being.  It gives me the weekend to simply not have to think about what I should and should not be writing about.  Sunday had been a hellacious day for me especially considering I got up and finished editing and prepping the AggroChat episode that we recorded the night before.  Then as soon as I wrapped that up I realistically needed to sit down and write a blog post before I was officially “free” to do anything.  This also made planning anything on the weekends rough given that I was already claiming from 9 pm onward on Saturday night…  then again functionally claiming an hour or two each morning.  Then if we needed to travel I had to either drag a laptop with me on our travels and do the upside down day thing…  or stage enough posts to cover the time away from home.  There was something ultimately liberating when it came to breaking the pattern.  So much of why I had been pushing myself was simply to make sure that I never dropped any of the plates that were spinning in the air, and once I allowed the first place to drop…  it became a lot easier to allow myself time off when I simply was not ready to make a post.  It also allows me to shift the format around a bit, so that if we take a vacation I can actually enjoy said vacation.  For example I didn’t make posts from Pax South this year… or over Spring Break when we roamed Dallas hitting all of the Half Priced Books.  The world seemed to manage just fine without me, and folks more or less have continued reading in spite of my occasionally dropping a post.

Part of the tyranny of the pattern is the fact that I felt like I became more known for the fact that I was doing the daily posting thing…  than anything I might have actually been writing about.  That said I have readers that have been around…  sometimes begrudgingly the entire eight years so in truth this was probably just anxiety brain being horrible.  The truth is that I still do not know why anyone reads this blog, and I am consistently baffled by the analytics.  That said I also feel like I am on this shared journey with all of you.  We are doing this together, even if you have never actually commented on the blog in the past.  It feels like I always have a friend there to tell the tales of my adventures and foibles to, and as a result I always strive to make this a much more intimate experience.  I let each and every one of you inside my mind from time to time to share my thoughts and feelings… and sometimes write more about “stuff” than I do gaming.  I thank you all for being there, and even if you are just standing in the background lurking…  the fact that you are there is important to me personally.  I don’t want to be a “brand” or try and turn this blog into some sort of vehicle for self promotion.  I just want it to be a shared experience of taking you all along with me as I do things.  So in the end I am thankful for each and every person that has decided to come along for the ride.

The funny thing about April is that for me it is apparently a time of new beginnings.  I started Tales of the Aggronaut on April 17th of 2009, because I was inspired by some of the World of Warcraft blogs that I had been reading.  In truth it was a single blog called the Wordy Warrior, by Aeridel that ultimately tipped me to the side of writing my own thing.  Sadly like so many blogs it is lost to the mists of time, but she went on to now be one of the amazing social media managers for World of Warcraft.  In 2013 when I felt like I needed to restart things with the blog, I opted to start the “Grand Experiment” and go from having several month long breaks in blog posts…  to blogging every single morning.  It was a bit of a swift kick in the ass, and it was something that I needed to gain the confidence to just sit down at a keyboard and start writing without being super concerned about creating greatness every single day.  I stuck with this for a little over three years before ultimately dialing it back for my own sanity.  In addition I am realizing that the very first AggroChat podcast episode was on April 13th… something we probably should have mentioned in this past weeks show.  So it seems like for me at least April is just this month where I hatch new ideas and make them into something tangible.  As a result I have one such idea that has been incubating in my head, I just need to find the time…  and volunteers to bring it to fruition.

In eight years of blogging I have written a little over 1500 blog posts, 1519 to be exact if I believe WordPress.  During that time I have had 128,828 unique readers from 186 different countries.  While English is not shockingly the top language group hitting the blog… French and German have a pretty large share of the numbers as well.  My heaviest usage day was apparently November 2nd 2015, when Marvel Heroes reposted one of my blogs on both Facebook and Twitter.  All of this is largely nonsensical to me because I still cannot fathom why anyone would actually care about my thoughts.  I am not really a big blog, and I don’t really have this massive audience…  but what I seemingly do have is a group of folks who are extremely devoted to whatever this experience is.  I’ve said it before and I still think its true.  There are really two types of readers out there regardless of whatever platform you happen to be posting on.  There are the folks who are interested in a specific topic and your blog just happens to be drift compatible with those goals.  However if you ever decide to shift focus, they can easily weed you out of their feed reader because it no longer meets their parameters.  Then there are the folks who have somewhere along the way imprinted upon you, and probably arrived originally because your interests were similar…  but ended up sticking around because they decided that they cared about you as a human being.  The later group is really the folks that are here for the long haul because over these past eight years I have bounced around like crazy.  So while this started as a “Warrior Tanking” blog and went through “Raiding Blog”, “General WoW Blog”, and “Rift Blog” phases…  what exists today is just “Bel Says Things”.  If you aren’t interested in that then you probably aren’t going to be around for long.  Regardless I am deeply humbled that I seemingly have so many people interested in that proposal, and I will try really hard to “not fuck this up” in the process.

 

 

Selling Nostalgia

This morning I am just now waking up as I am off for good Friday.  Which in truth I always thought was odd given how much Baptists outnumber Catholics in my area, but whatever the case I will take it.  I like days off, other than the fact that they sort of cause me to lose momentum.  As a result I have been staring at the screen for awhile now after waking up and eating a couple of croissants. and now seem to have absolutely no ammunition for a proper blog post.  As a result you are instead getting a bit of a reprise of something I already said on the interwebs.  Yesterday at some point during the day I went on a bit of a tear on twitter of posting a chain of posts about nostalgia and gaming projects.  Every so often I decide to react to something…  and like the confused madman that I am I rarely if ever provide proper reference for the ramblings that are about to ensue.  Yesterday was no different, and ultimately what started the machine running was the fact that I keep seeing announcements relating to the various City of Heroes nostalgia projects that are all hoping to capture the magic of that game.

The general problem I have with this concept is… that City of Heroes was a specific moment in time for me and involved not only the game…  but the general lack of other options available at the time.  In the early MMO era there was a period of each game release absolutely eclipsing what the previous one was offering me.  Prior to the launch of City of Heroes, the MMOs that I had played for serious amounts of time were Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot and Horizon: Empire of Istaria in that order.  From each game I gathered up some friends and carried them forward into the next title, and this was absolutely the case for City of Heroes seeing me splitting time between playing with a circle of local friends, my first Everquest guild, my second Everquest guild…  and a group that would ultimately end up being the core of folks I carried forward into World of Warcraft.  It was a weird time in gaming and it was made vibrant by the fact that everything was fresh and new.  That said the moment any of us got our hands on World of Warcraft, it pretty much was the death of City of Heroes… and instead of continuing to play we largely spent a bunch of time planning out what our ultimate adventures in Azeroth would look like.

The City of Heroes nostalgia games however are instead a dogmatic recreation of this thirteen year old game brought into the 16:9 resolution world with higher fidelity.  Sure that is an interesting prospect, but something you might download a screw with on a boring Sunday afternoon like an Everquest emulator… but probably not something you are likely to play for long periods of time.  The core problem with City of Heroes is that there were simply not that many people actually playing it when the game was shuttered.  Sure it bothered me greatly to know that this virtual world that I once loved was now gone, and it still frustrates me.  However I was not actually playing it…  nor was anyone that I knew…  and that was the issue.  It was a game we all remembered fondly… but chose to keep remembering fondly by not playing it and subjecting it to the criticism of knowing the games that came after it.  This is not entirely a critique of City of Heroes, because there are plenty of other trips down memory lane in the works that intend to bring back Everquest or Dark Age of Camelot.  City of Heroes was an important game for me…  but also one I had moved past.

“I remember this thing fondly” is an extremely dangerous demographic, because our memories are ultimately fallible.  It is entirely possible for us to inflate the idea of something to the point where it no longer represents anything vaguely close to the actual experience.  A prime example of this is that I loved Bravestar the cartoon… and a number of years ago I tracked down a copy of the series run.  About three episodes into watching it, I stopped because it simply did not stand the test of time… and seemingly I remembered the show… but also infused that memory with how much I actually enjoyed playing with the toys.  Similarly I remember loving Airwolf… and then subjected myself to watching the show from Netflix and it was something that just no longer worked for me.  I think City of Heroes is going to ultimately be the same for a lot of people, that they remember the game fondly because in truth they are actually remembering a moment in time and the people that were involved with it.  I’ve changed an awful lot since April of 2004, and I have this feeling that most of the folks that really clamor for a return to that game have changed as well.

The truth is I would love to see a modern City of Heroes, but when I say that I don’t mean it literally.  What I want is a modern super hero MMO that captures the spirit of City of Heroes, but more importantly is relevant and something that all of my friends are similarly excited to be playing.  The last part is the hardest in the equation.  Online games are never actually the same, because they are this combination of elements that the game studio has control over, and elements that it doesn’t in the form of the community of folks playing it.  Sure you can revisit a book or a movie and even though you have changed… the source material ultimately has not.  That is not the case with an online experience, because the community effects your perception of the game in ways that we don’t even fully understand.  I might phase my statement “I really miss X game” but what I am actually saying is I miss the moment in time when I had a group of friends actively playing that game.  These little vignettes of time are just something you can’t really get back.  I have experienced this so many times with World of Warcraft as folks rush into a brand new expansion… only to peter out once again because it ultimately feels like ground we have tread too many times to maintain the level of excitement for long.

Nostalgia is a seriously addictive drug, and I admit that I succumb to it rather often.  As gamers we are all I think chasing the original high we felt when we played this game or did this activity.  Then ultimately lying to ourselves when we claim that the game is just as good as we remembered it.  Comfort gaming will always be comfortable because we can slip into it without the experience asking that much from us.  However in doing so we are largely feeding off past memories far more than we are actually making new ones.  I remember those first few years in World of Warcraft with crystal clarity, but with each expansion and each succession of a brand new group of people to meet and remember…  they get significantly more hazy.  Coming back to a game…  makes you remember not just the highlight reel of good moments, but the crashing reality of all of the frustrations you felt about the game and that likely ultimately lead you to quit in the first place.  All of this is why I feel like relying entirely on nostalgia to carry a project forward is a deeply dangerous proposal.  Nostalgia is a great hook to get people through the door, but the project itself has to immediately stand on its own two feel and start building deep and interesting memories to keep people there for long.  I wish the crop of nostalgia induced projects the best of luck, but at the same time I am deeply skeptical that they are going to live up to our memories.

Donuts and Calculations

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I decided last night that the primary reason for me trying to complete all of the side quest content… is that it enables me to spend more time screwing around in the Nomad.  At this point I am nearing 80 hours into the game, and thanks to Dusty Monk I know how to determine my completion score which is sitting at 63%.  I’m level 52 as of last night and have completed the primary colonization arc of I believe all of the inhabitable worlds.  There is a huge part of me that is somehow extremely bummed that we could not somehow turn habitat 7 around and at least put some form of a mining outpost.  Similarly I am bummed that the game would not allow me to take over and inhabit the asteroid mining base out there with something other than some flavor text stating that the Nexus would begin mining there.  However in all of this…  doing stupid things in the Nomad has probably been the highlight.  Why go around a mountain when you can use your rocket boost to climb it.

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The biggest problem with Mass Effect Andromeda is the fact that it has latched on hard enough to make me go through the “just one more objective” problem.  I am having hell each night pulling myself away to get some much needed sleep, and that means as a result most every night this week I have been finally hitting bed around 11:30 to midnight-ish which isn’t horrible until you account that I get up for work at 5:30.  Thankfully today is my official unofficial Friday since we are off tomorrow, and that means I can in theory catch up on sleep over the three day weekend.  I also hope that I can wrap this game up so I can move to one of the other games waiting on me to play it.  More than likely I will be returning to Horizon Zero Dawn, because functionally I am on a timer with needing to play whatever it is that I want to play before the launch of Stormblood.  So far on that list are Horizon Zero Dawn, Zelda Breath of the Wild, Wrapping up Final Fantasy XV, and Nier Automata.  There are of course other games that should probably be on that list, but I am trying to stay at least a little focused right now.

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Last night I experienced the best possible line in the game, hands down.  Sure the game is full of some zingers, but one of the key problems I have had while playing it is reconciling Tann.  I love Kumail Nanjiani as an actor…. but I have come to loath Director Tann with all of my being.  I mean no one could have lived up to my love of Mordin Solus, and I am kinda happy that they did not even try.  While Kallo Jath is cool enough, the character just doesn’t interact enough with him to make a really meaningful impression.  As far as Salarian’s go the one that has left the biggest mark on me this game is Jarun Tann.  He is exactly the wrong sort of person that I would want in charge of the Initiative, and I feel fairly frustrated that really there is nothing I can do about it.  Granted I am still quite a ways from finishing the game, and largely paused any main quest development until I completed all of the side missions that I wanted.  As a result I still have yet to find the Salarian Ark, and maybe that sequence allows me to do some wish fulfillment and expose Tann to be the pompous ass he is.  However in the mean time… the game does at least allow me to say one liners like this one.  Mass Effect Andromeda… is the Mass Effect the internet needed.

 

Mechanics Defeated

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Last night did not ultimately end up like I thought it would, for many reasons.  Firstly this weekend we had a death in the family…  but man is it harder to explain than that.  When you grow up in a small town, families that are connected to each other through a marriage end up mingling an awful lot.  Because of kids birthday parties and school events, you are constantly encountering this whole other family that is not actually related to you.  So when I say a death in the family, it was not actually my or my wife’s family, but instead the father of a brother in law in wife’s side.  So when it happened we made a trip up to Friday night to attempt to offer support, and do our normal thing of bringing paper goods since during a death in the family a household goes through way more of everything.  The funeral itself is today, and because of the weird familial restrictions of bereavement leave policy I don’t get a day off.  Last night was the viewing, which is sort of like a wake but not actually a wake…  and I did not think we were going to go.  However when I got off from work my wife indicated that we probably should at least make a showing.  I thought this largely meant that I would be gone from our normal Tuesday night FFXIV shenanigans.  It was roughly an hour drive either direction, and then by the time we went to the event and ate dinner I fully expected to be about an hour late for fun time.

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However we opted to pick up some food and eat it while travelling… I would explain what we got but it probably would not make sense to anyone who did not grow up in a tiny town.  I also apparently drove like a bat out of hell, because I made it home and was only about fifteen minutes late… with folks still trying to pull the group together.  With me it meant we had seven people available to do stuff…  and in some quirk of bravado we decided to pug that 8th layer and keep working on “Mechanics: The Fight” or Thordan Ex.  We got a Dragoon that said they had run the fight on a healer before… and we proceeded to start attempting to make progress.  A few seconds into the fight and the Dragoon was already dead.  During that first attempt I think they were rezzed four different times… and more than likely through the entire sequence of the attempts averaged around three deaths per outing.  As if summoned by our tears…  Kodra showed up and we rejoiced and disbanded our party finder group to bring him in.  The hilarious part about this is that we all started talking about how much we had gotten used to having a good Dragoon.  Then a few seconds into the first attempt…  Kodra died in EXACTLY the same manner as our pug dragoon.

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We rebounding from this and started making proper attempts.  The night was mildly stressful because we once again had a slightly different line up than normal.  Muspel was filling one of the slots, and his only level 60 and geared character is his warrior.  That mean’t Ashgar was not tanking along side me and instead running DPS on his monk.  This is not normally a big deal other than the fact that every attempt I have been in the offtank role, and last night was my first night actually tanking the main boss.  It took some adjustment, namely during the dragons eye phase to know that I had to actually step through the boss to make sure I was clear of the effect.  Similarly there was a dance of times I needed to stack up… and then hurriedly run the hell out before he cast a frontal cleave.  I am pretty sure I killed someone at least once during one of these interchanges, or when having to run across the Arena to place to boss so that the dragon eye and boss were in the same orientation.  However on what would have been our last attempt due to the timer, we brought all of these elements together and managed to get our very first Thordan Ex kill.  Now to move on to the Warring Triad Extremes, but hopefully we can keep popping Thordan each week so we don’t actually forget the dance.

Doom Therapy

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Yesterday was a bit of a frustrating day.  For some reason lately there has been this common theme for me at work.  That is getting pulled into projects that I have never touched before, and don’t even know the history of…  as a sort of troubleshooter in chief.  I apparently have this ability to break through the layers of urban legends and get at the heart of problems.  Largely this all centers on my ability to ask “why are you doing it that way?”… regardless of who happens to be in the room.  I am not mean spirited about it, but in truth what I am trying to do is separate out what is needed and adds value to the process and what is just extra steps that were put in for no apparent reason.  I mean I have worked in environments where I did not have access to the appropriate permissions, and in those environments you sort of make things work however you can.  A prime example is a process that I a digging into right now that involves going for seven hops between what is essentially an FTP drop directory and the actual directory the software loads data from.  I’m trying to peel back the layers of tradition and determine does each of these steps actually do something other than just adding more steps where a file can possibly get corrupted.  Also in this case the file crosses the operating system boundary at least four times which in itself is sort of problematic.

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There are days when I have had my fill of madness and simply need to watch the world burn.  Instead of ACTUALLY watching the world burn… I have a more healthy outlet in the form of video games.  The genre of choice during these days is some form of a shooter, and last night on a whim I decided to boot up the modern incarnation of Doom.  Now I have not spent nearly as much time in this game as it deserves, largely because it ran less than amazing on my previous system.  I mean it was workable but for a game that demands such fast paced action…  my old AMD FX-6300 process wasn’t really doing the job.  Now that I have this spiffy x99 i7 system it runs extremely smooth in both normal and vulcan modes.  In theory I should probably put this game on the SSD because it has quite possibly one of the slowest boot sequences that I have seen from any game.  Whatever the case it absolutely filled my need especially when it comes to “glory kills”, which allows you to rip the heads/arms/various other body parts off of demons when they are low health.  When you are deeply frustrated…  it helps a little bit to inflict massive amounts of digital carnage.

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After about an hour of “Doom Therapy” I was more than ready to strap back into the environmental suit and go exploring in Mass Effect Andromeda.  Last night I arrived at “Not-Tatooine” the obligatory desert world in the Andromeda galaxy.  I think  there is some unwritten rule that if you have an ice wasteland planet… you must then have a desert wasteland planet to balance things out.  The positive is that “Not-Tatooine” is way easier to traverse than “Not-Hoth” due to the lack of giant ice crevices that go on forever.  There are however giant sinkholes that seem to go on forever, but these seem easier to see than the crevices were.  One of the things that you have to know about me is… that essentially roads and paths in videos games don’t exist and I will try my damnedest to figure out how to wall hack my way into a place rather than trying to sort out which direction the game is intending me to approach.  This absolutely wrecks a lot of scripting that intends on players to arrive from a specific vector… and sometimes causes some hilarious moments of me unintentionally “sneaking” up behind guards.  As a result when you apply this instinct to Andromeda it means that I spend a not insignificant amount of time forcing my nomad to climb sheer rock faces by abusing boosts.

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The sad moment of last night unfortunately was when I decided that I should probably abandon my N7 tier 5 gear for something tier 6…  and as a result I wound up putting on a full set of initiative spearhead armor.  It has some perfectly reasonable if generic stats… but the key problem is that it just doesn’t look as cool.  I have yet to find a set of “new” gear that really looks cool… and have been relying on the Quarian themed armor that I got with the collectors edition and the various N7 armor sets that I have been able to scrounge up.  Apparently the Initiative only got to take the ugly armors with them to Andromeda… because all of the cool armor was needed to fight the Collectors and or the Reapers.  I have a massive influx of research points because quite honestly… none of the Helius cluster gear looks very cool.  I’ve never touched any of the Kett weaponry largely because they are ugly as sin, and while the Angaran weapons look a little better…. they are nowhere near as cool as the good old standbys from the Milky Way.  The look and feel of a weapon to me are as important as the function.  In theory what I should do is hang out next to one of the forward supply points and keep swapping weapons until I have tried out everything in my inventory before returning to my practice of mass deconstructing everything.  The inventory upgrades have given me some breathing room to be able to hold onto some extra items.

Nomad Valet Service

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This weekend was a fun one, and not because I did anything special…  but more for the absence of anything planned.  Saturday we got up fairly early, and ran errands.  I had been putting off going to the eye glasses place since getting my prescription, and I guess I was doing so for good reason.  Bifocals are extremely expensive.  I priced out a set of daily wear and a set of sunglasses and it was going to be almost $800.  That is just straight up ludicrous for eyewear…  but it is a carnival of errors that adds up in a final price.  I have an insanely strong prescription which generally means I need some of those double super bonus lenses with all of the bells and whistles to keep the thickness down.  Then when you combine that with the fact that this time around they were going to be adding bifocals and a prism…  shit got crazy really fast.  Instead I opted to wait… since my Optometrist said I was really on the borderline as to whether or not they would actually benefit me.  So I opted to think about it… and wound up just ordering more single vision glasses for the moment from Zenni optical.  I have a feeling that I am going to have enough trouble getting adjusted to the prism…  that I am not sure if I want to further complicate things with bifocal lenses this time.  However I guess when it comes time to renew I will be going for the vision insurance since that at least will hopefully dent that blow.

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As far as the rest of the weekend… we cleaned the house like mad when we got home from errands and this largely freed me up to be able to just chill the hell out upstairs with a cat on either side playing some Andromeda.  I have to say I love that I ultimately have two cats on my desk most of the time…  I have blankets on either side of the keyboard and it isn’t super long before I have attract both Allie our eldest cat, and Kenzie our middle cat.  Hell right now as I am writing this post at 6 in the morning… I already have Allie crashed out on the blanket to the right of my keyboard.  She will probably sit there in that state for a bit longer until she decides it is time for food and starts prancing back and forth in front of my keyboard.  As far as gaming went…  I am so deep into Andromeda at this point.  All told I am nearly 70 hours into the game and I have been stalling moving the main story forward until I can complete all of the side stuff.  As I learn more about the universe…  I am starting to feel like maybe this is a better game than the original trilogy.  I know that is going to be a controversial statement.  I will however add the qualifier of “for me” to the statement, because personally the original trilogy hit a high point with the second game and Andromeda is really structured in a similar fashion.  It involves going off on small missions with your team to effect the world in subtle ways.  The game play itself feels like this amalgam of Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, namely the way that KOTOR used to let you roam around planets in what felt like at the time a free manner.

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This free roaming nature is for good and bad…  like the fact that I never seem to park my Nomad in a reasonable way as I hurriedly hit the E button as I roll up on the next combat vignette.  In this case I literally had to jump and try and hit E to re-enter in order to get back in after finishing the remnant site.  Side note the N7 armor is still probably the coolest design in Mass Effect, and  the Andromeda logo especially will never be quite as cool as it.  At this point I am I believe level 43, and I think in truth the game probably expected me to be done with it ages ago.  There is a lot of sadness about to happen however, because with the deluxe edition I got a set of really awesome Pathfinder weapons.  I’ve become very close with my Pathfinder Auto Rifle, and every time I leveled into a new bracket the next pattern was magically available for development.  This has been the biggest resource sink for me as I made one of these each time it was possible.  However it seems like you stop getting patterns at Tier 5…  and I am not really looking forward to the prospect of trying to find a new auto rifle crush.  I am hoping that one of these patches fixes this and lets me keep making my little Pathfinder auto rifle friends.  For the moment I am going to be getting my hands on other types of rifles and trying out which seems to fit best for that archetype.  In a way it reminded me of the way that Red Death feels in Destiny… and while this game calls it an auto rifle…  by Destiny terms it would be a pulse rifle.  Whatever the case I am slowing wrapping up some of the loyalty missions because before I start moving the priority ops again I want to make sure I have access to all of the toys.

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The weirdest part about this play through is that I am playing in a fashion that I never really thought I would.  For the most part I have maxed out a number of the weapon abilities and all of the passive benefit traits.  From there I am largely playing a “pet class” for lack of a better term.  I am using the turret which I find insanely handy, and my common MO is to open the door to a base… chunk a turret in and then back out to safety as I let it soften the defenses before ducking back in and mopping up.  In addition to the turret I am regularly using the hacked observer that PeeBee gives you access to, and letting it loose to run amok.  These two things often times distract the enemy and I can pick them off with headshots from either the auto rifle if medium range, or sniper rifle if extreme ranges.  For up close and personal action… I have shockwave with the knock back that can clear out a bunch of things rushing at me.  In truth it is more of a jack of all trades build than any deep synergy between abilities… but it is also tailored to some of the things that I like from other games.  In the Borderlands series I have almost exclusively played whatever character could use auto rifles and turrets.  While I like getting up close and personal in most games…  in shooters I tend to relish hanging out in that medium range with the ability to duck behind cover.  Lately however I have gotten into using my Asari sword to slice and dice Kett in close quarters… so maybe that medium range thing is shifting.  Whatever the case…  I spent so much time with Andromeda this weekend and the game just keeps getting better as I get further into it.  While the game might have started out awkwardly… it really feels like it is going to finish in style.