C is for Captain

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I thought I would start things off with a humorous glitch this morning that started happening last night.  Any time I would go into the bar and get a drink, the glass was missing and would instead get this goofy empty hand sequence.  Secondly I got chastised the other day for not saying that there would be potential spoilers in my blog post… so lets get that one out of the way.  I am not intentionally going into full on story mode, but I also am too sleepy to probably comb my post adequately for spoilers.  So there might be some, especially since I am realizing that my definition of a spoiler is vastly different than the definition of some folks.  For me a spoiler is generally a big plot point, or what happens when you make this or that decision.  Whereas I never would have thought the fact that you end up on an ice planet, or the fact that you wind up getting a new race that has been featured in pretty much every trailer for the last bit would be classified as spoilers.  So be forewarned, your mileage may vary.  To be truthful this is probably a blanket statement about every post that I make.  While I generally try not to spoiler larger plot points, the fact that I am writing a blog every morning and need constant fodder means that ultimately details about games will come out.  Hell the simple fact that I am posting a constant flood of screenshots is probably spoilery in itself.

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I spent a fair amount of Sunday playing Mass Effect Andromeda, and lets me honest…  I spent MOST of that time wandering around Not-Hoth.  The way the planets work in this game is a massive trap for someone like me who likes to roam around aimlessly and complete mini objectives.  I generally like ice zones and ice planets… and while there was a huge segment of Hoth in SWTOR that was sheer drudgery…  I still loved it.  So the fact that I am wandering around in a giant all terrain vehicle on gorgeous ice flows exploring nifty things I see off on the horizon…  that is definitely in my wheelhouse.  I did however take time out of my busy schedule of killing remnant and kett camps to move the story forward, and unlock the vault on Voeld.  This allowed me to set down my second colonial base, that was given a name there is no way in the hell I am ever going to remember.  I mean I realize that they couldn’t give me the ability to name these settlements because voiced dialog lines….  but at least make them easy to remember.  I mean they all have nifty lore nuggets when the colonial governor explains why they named the town whatever they named it…  but there is zero point zero chance I am going to remember any of it.  I may or may not have an issue with remembering the names of things…  and if you have ever listened to AggroChat there is a lot of me explaining what I am talking about… and then Tam or Ash coughing up the name of whatever it is.

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The biggest takeaway from the weekend… is just how much in general I like my crew.  I am even starting to like Liam, who I guess at the first I was sort of expecting to be the Corso Riggs of the crew.  There is something I like about each and every one of them, and I guess that is sort of the hallmark of a good Bioware game.  The biggest surprise for me however is how I have ended up playing with Jaal.  At face value he did not exactly seem like I character I would want to run around with, but did anyways because I kept exploring functionally his homeworlds.  However over time I have come to actually like the Cat Squid Whatever quite a lot.  I am however having weird flashbacks to the Selkath and Manaan  when interacting with Aya and the Angara.  In truth there is a lot of this game that feels thematically reminiscent of Knights of the Old Republic.  I mean functionally we are unlocking ancient tech similar to that of the content leading up to the Star Forge, and while not exactly the same it feels strangely similar to me.  I think in part I have spent so much time working on the two spin off Angara worlds because otherwise it would feel really freaking wrong when we started plunking colonies down on these planets.  If I had not done a bunch of things to fix core problems and to build a giant freaking bridge between the Angara and the species of the Milky Way… it would feel super invadery when I started setting up shop on their worlds.

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My growing take away however is that while this game is full of glitches and all sorts of strange shit going on…  that underneath the lack of polish is a really solid experience.  I struggled at length to get into Dragon Age Inquisition… because I just didn’t care about the story that was happening and in truth many of the characters that were part of it.  That has not been the case with Mass Effect Andromeda.  While the narrative feels a little ill fitting at time… and “Ryder” feels more forced at times…  I still very much feel like I am my own character.  I can tweak the dialog just enough to give my own spin on the conversation.  While it doesn’t seem to have some of the same lasting effects as going renegade used to…  there are still some of these moments scattered throughout the game play where a quick time event alters the course of the story.  I think what is missing is the asshole Ryder option, similar to asshole Shepard…  and that was something I never played.  I could never bring myself to go down those dialog options because I just don’t have that level of cruelty in me…  even if being enacted upon non-existent people.  All of that said… I am enjoying the hell out of this game.

Not-Hoth

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I don’t have a whole hell of a lot to talk about this morning, in part because I had a pretty rough night.  It was one of those evenings where I started to inexplicably run out of steam around 9 pm.  Then when I went to bed… instead of falling asleep peacefully as it seemed would be the case I wound up tossing and turning until 12:30.  The other futile thing that I attempted was running Mass Effect Andromeda on my laptop.  Granted my laptop is not that old nor is it that far behind the curve.  It is a 4000 series i7 mobile processor and contains GeForce 960M graphics…  which I thought would largely be sufficient to run the game at a reasonable resolution.  However that is very much not the case and in order to get a decent frame rate I have to functionally run everything on low settings.  A good chunk of the night I was attempting to run around on Havarl, which is a ground clutter dense world… and a relatively dark world…  making the less than optimal set up feel even more so.  Instead of roaming around like I actually wanted to….  I wound up going after the objective with a laser focus and getting the hell out of there.

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Which leads me to Voeld… aka “Not-Hoth” an icy world that legends tell didn’t used to be so.  That has such cold that it taxes my suits life support and forces me to ping pong around the map going between sheltered Daars and Forward Bases.  This also has me fighting way more Kett which is a good thing… because in truth I kinda felt bad killing the evil Angara.  Whatever the case I did not really feel like I made much progress last night.  Sure I landed on the homeworld on a new species and started running errands for them…  but the lo-fi version of the game kept me from enjoying it nearly as much as I would have liked.  For running on what seems to be a souped up version of the Dragon Age Inquisition engine… it certainly requires a lot more in the way of system resources.  That has been the weirdest part about this console generation…  it doesn’t seem like we have hit the plateau yet.  During the PS3/Xbox 360 era of console games there was a clear point where PC power definitely outstripped the games that were being built and ultimately ported from the consoles.  However with the PS4/Xbox One games… it feels like we have yet to hit that pint and these games are still rather taxing on hardware pending you want them to look reasonably decent.  I am sure the PS4 Pro/Scorpio machinations will only serve to increase the ceiling of this process as well.

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So the end result is that laptop gaming does not feel nearly as viable now as it once did.  Were this a Steam game I could simply stream it from my upstairs machine and life would be golden.  However given that it is marooned in Origin land, that seems less viable.  There are of course tricks that you can do to make this work under steam in home streaming, but I attempted most of these during my many attempts to get into Dragon Age Inquisition and it never really worked as well as I hoped it would.  Either I would get a black screen while streaming, or the game would simply get stranded and stay open forever on my gaming desktop.  I wish there was a viable platform agnostic streaming option, but none of the remote desktop applications are really designed for high frame rate/high resolution streaming.  I want to be able to play the game 1080p and as close to 60 fps as I can get…. over my AC band wireless connection and so far Steam in home streaming is the only thing optimized enough to pull that off.  Splashtop works fairly well for mobile device resolutions, but not for the desktop.  In any case Mass Effect may simply be an upstairs online game for me, and I will be limited to something else while chilling on the sofa.

Turning the Corner

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I think last night I reached the point where I have turned the corner on Mass Effect Andromeda.  By that I mean I think I have finally gotten used to the animations just enough to stop seeing them anymore.  I mean I still see them… but they just don’t really bother me anymore because I am not invested enough in the characters and the story to stop caring.  I’ve talked about why Mass Effect 2 was my favorite in the series, and how it allowed me to go on smaller away missions and largely avoid really moving the story forward when I did’t want to.  Andromeda gives me this in droves, and I spent most of the night last night working on minor story threads.  I tracked down a Saboteur, determined the guilt or innocence of a Turian on trial for the first murder on the station, and helped  determine if an official was “on the take”.  I like roaming around planetside and exploring, and I absolutely love the way the Nomad vehicle feels.  I was never really a huge fan of the hammerhead or the mako, but this time they seemed to flip all of the switches in the right direction and give me a vehicle that I actually want to use.

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When I play Mass Effect I almost exclusively use Assault Rifles and always have.  Traditionally I just stick to the M-8 Avenger until I get something grossly overpowered later in the game.  However I have already found something I like using better.  The M-37 Falcon I is something that I am not really sure how it can be classified as an Assault Rifle.  In truth it is a grenade launcher… and my god does it pack a punch.  So long as my aim is true, I can largely one shot all smaller “trash” enemies and two or three shot the bigger shielded ones.  The only issue however is that it has a very small magazine (which is going to annoy the shit out of Squirrel that they call a clip… its a thing of his) and has a pretty hefty wait time between shots.  All of this is something that I can forgive given just how hard it its and how cool it sounds when you fire it.  I ended up picking this up on the Nexus in pre-colonization state and I am absolutely loving it.  Another thing that I am digging about the game is how you can find deployment pylons scattered around the map that let you change weapons and crew members planet side.  I did not actually use this weapon for a bit, because I was not certain I would like it… and had no clue I could use the pylons if I changed my mind.

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I have a freaking pet Pyjack on the ship.  That in itself is enough to make me love the game, and it roams freely which is awesome…  because I was partially afraid it would end up in a cage in my quarters. Speaking of roaming…  I both love and hate the fact that the crew roams keeps moving around the ship.  One of the hallmarks of Mass Effect is the need to constantly keep checking in on your crew because they tell you story tidbits, or just have commentary about what you just did.  So each time I land back on the ship I have a habit of wanting to go around and check in on everyone to see if there are any new story options.  The fact that the crew roams aimlessly through the ship makes it extremely challenging to mentally make sure you have actually found everyone.  As far as crew members go… I honestly thought I would be annoyed by Peebee but have ended up loving her.  Similarly I was not sure what I would think of Cora but also similarly really like the character… and she has become one of my go to fighters for missions.  Vetra is awesome and I have only recently started taking her planet side (largely because I could not figure out how to drop Liam early on).  I like Drak as a character but have not really done much with him.  So far the only crew member that I have zero interest in is Liam.  He is a poor replacement for Garrus and will never be my best friend…  no matter how much the game really wants him to be.  As far as the other crew members…  they all seem way more hollow than the previous generation.  I actually liked going and talking to Joker or listening to Donnelly and Daniels banter back and forth.  As it stands now I just don’t care at all about Gil, Suvi, or Kallo.  That said however I do go talk to Dr Lexi at every opportunity because she is freaking awesome.  In any case… I feel like I have gotten acclimatized to the game and can now enjoy it properly.

Going to Space

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I did not in fact stay up last night and play Andromeda, but man was it hard not to.  Over the weekend I got to play some of the early access trial and to be honest this game at least in the early minutes of game play is exactly what I liked about the Mass Effect series.  However first let me talk about the trial a bit before I go into that.  You got the trial through being an Origin Access subscriber.  Being in Origin Access gives you a discount on game purchases… that is roughly about what a month of the subscription is so it was honestly a no brainer to do that given that the discount functionally paid for itself.  Through this it unlocked a 10 hour trial of the game… which seemed weird but I figured there was no way I would actually play all ten hours.  So I pre-loaded the Trial and the game and wandered off on my mini vacation.  Friday night when I got back into town, I sat down on the sofa and booted the game on my laptop, fiddling around with the character creator before my wife suggested it was bed time.  I agreed and exited the game, expecting to have 9.5 hours worth of game play waiting on me.  While the game exited completely and was missing from my hotbar…  it was apparently still resident in memory somehow and Origin sat there ticking away my trial time while I slept.  When I got up the next morning, ate breakfast and finally settled in to do some gaming… I was extremely disappointed to find out that according to Origin I had completed my trial time.

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At the suggestions of Ashgar I tried using Origin customer support, because apparently in the past he had good luck with it.  That was not really the case for me, because firstly the live chat feature did not appear to be working and instead of telling me that on screen while I was waiting for chat to load…  it sent me an email telling me that to resolve my issues I needed to call the support center.  That is a huge strike against any customer service, if I actually have to call and talk to someone….  especially given that I have a hard enough time explaining my problem without having to also attempt to decode a vastly different accent and speech pattern than that of my own.  They had the option to ask for the support to call you, whenever someone was available and I did this…  but knew immediately things were going to not go well when they asked me to get on the machine that had Origin installed.  They started pushing me through steps to verify that Origin was installed…  without actually listening to the issue that I was having.  After about thirty minutes of working through someones flip file of instructions I finally got them to listen to the real issue, which was that Mass Effect did not fully close… and it ate up every last bit of my trial time.  They gave me back 5 hours of trial time, which was frustrating given that I should have had 9.5 hours….  but after the frustrations I was ready to just settle for anything.  Side note… if you ever do an Origin trial… make sure the game exits completely and open task manager to kill anything that looks connected to it.  I even went so far as to kill origin itself and the memory resident helper program.  This isn’t just a me thing because apparently the exact same bug happened to Tam yesterday and cost him whatever remained of his trial.

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The next big bullet point is that the real fun for me with Mass Effect is leading a team and running missions.  As a result my favorite Mass Effect game to date is the second one, because it had the most “Star Trek Away Team” moment, where we landed on a planet to assess what was going on and end up stumbling into adventure.  The story of the series is excellent, but it isn’t necessarily the hook for me.  Similarly the romance elements are interesting enough, but definitely not why I play the game and feel more like a mini game within the game.  I feel all of this is important because lots of different people play Mass Effect for completely different reasons.  So far… the game is scratching all of my itches and giving me a significantly better combat system to improve the feeling of exploring the galaxy.  What I always wanted was a game that offered the same sort of tactical missions that the second game had…. with the ability to literally land on any world that the first game had…  and it seems like maybe Andromeda is at least heading in that direction.  Granted I have only just done the intro mission and am now exploring the first tutorial planet, but so far so good.

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Please note there are absolutely some detractors to this game.  Firstly even though it was the ammunition for some horrific bullshit…  and I do not want to have any part of that…  the animations are bad.  It is no so much that the animations are bad themselves… it just feels like the rigging that attaches animations to the models is somehow faulty.  Sometimes it is perfectly fine, and other times…..  it is inhuman and creepy as your character duck walk runs through an area.  The truth is though that this is nothing new and there have been countless other games with model and animation issues out of the gate… and I am hoping with additional patching this will go away.  If not… I am hoping that someone releases an unofficial patch or mod that fixes it since playing on the PC gives me access to a bunch of these…  I am looking at you play dough hair from Dragon Age Inquisition.  Given that the models and animations are not why I am playing the game,  I can look past them and get on with the fit bits of game play but they are most definitely immersion breaking.

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The other big issue I have is the new dialog system.  No I am not talking the lack of red and blue options but more the way that the game just zooms you into conversation without sending you to a secondary interface.  Situations like this happen where I am talking to someone but doing so in an extremely awkward fashion that occludes most of the character to character interactions.  A lot of the problems I have experienced with animation screw ups have happened while exiting the dialog system, so I am wondering if the two are connected.  In the above image I snapped the shot just after exiting dialog and there is some weird layer separation going on with the colors.  If you look at some of the edges you can really see it… but it is as though the RGB layers are askew.  It fixes itself with time but during the dialog itself it feels like my eyes are out of focus.  I don’t necessarily mourn the loss of Vanguard and Renegade the way most people seem to… considering I rarely if ever took the renegade option.  Like sure… if I was tracking down a bad guy I would sometimes take the renegade option and shoot them in the head, but in moment to moment character interaction I am at my core a hero type.  I find it damned near impossible to play a Sith or true dark sider in SWTOR… and that same thing spills over into Mass Effect.

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All in all I have enjoyed the game quite a bit, in spite of its faults and am looking forward to getting home tonight and roaming the Andromeda galaxy.  Ash, Tam and I are I think going to give the multiplayer a spin and in theory I got enough freebie packs that allow me to create something resembling a character load out that I like.  I did not go with the super extra deluxe version that included some boosters, largely because multiplayer was not near the thing for me as it was my friends.  However I am totally down for giving it a proper whirl.  What I want to see however is more of these worlds and what exactly I can do to fix them.  Mass Effect Andromeda already has me in its grip, and I don’t think it is going to really lose me any time soon.  While I acknowledge there are issues, I am just taking a low sodium approach to it and realizing that there is a lot of good there that happens to cater to my very specific interests.

Failed Intentions

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Last night I had every intention of playing the Mass Effect Andromeda trial, however that did not actually happen.  It of course needed to install, and one of the things about Final Fantasy XIV is that when something is thrashing the hard drive…  like a game download it becomes nigh unplayable.  I’ve seen many games that are cpu bound, and even more than a graphics card bound…  but FFXIV is the first game I have played ever that was truly hard drive bound.  In theory I am guessing this is a side effect of needing to run on systems like the PS3 where there are simply not that many system resources, so instead of loading a bunch of stuff in memory the game is constantly caching bite sized chunks of the world.  The end result works extremely well, and is probably why the game seems to be able to run on literally anything.  However it also means that last night while Mass Effect was installing I could not partake of my most common PC diversion…  chain running Palace of the Dead.  So instead I decided to filter off to the bedroom to “play a little Zelda while the game installed” and wound up playing until midnight.  I said this over twitter the other day and I will repeat it again…  that I feel like it is a testament to just how damned good this game is that I have very serious issues with certain aspects of it and still find myself constantly playing it.

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The thing that I find absolutely amazing about it is how well it supports my “oooh a piece of candy” approach to most games.  I am not following any semblance of a pattern in exploring this world and the game seems completely fine with that.  I feel like I have barely scratched the first three areas… and then found myself wandering into Zora’s Domain last night and following that chain of events.  A good chunk of the night was spent trying to unlock towers….  only to find out that several of them are at least theoretically blocked by Guardians.  As of yet I really do not have a good answer for them…  and they are sort of a dalek-esc death force as they try and EXTERMINATE!  There is nothing quite like the change in music when a Guardian has locked onto you, because you know that any minute you are going to see the target on your back and you are frantically looking for anything that could serve as cover.  The other thing I really don’t have an answer to is spike traps, because I found a shrine in my extremely sporadic travels that was completely blocked by spikes… and the earlier answer was to get up high enough and glide down.  The problem this time is there really was nothing to actually glide down from…  so I am guessing that is simply not a puzzle I can solve at the moment.  The core of my gaming focus seems to be on finding shrines, beating shrines… and then going to find more shrines.  I literally was caught in this loop until midnight when I realized I probably should get some sleep considering I am driving to Dallas today.

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Based on the results of last weekends podcast…  there really is no way I can put into words why this game works for me.  Any time I attempt to explain it I get bogged down in the grindy aspects of it, and the constant hunt for new weapons.  However there is a core game here that is really damned amazing.  Once you remove the durability problems and the wonky gyro puzzles…  you are left with the core Zelda game I always wanted.  I feel about this world the same way as I felt about the original Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo.  It was this big open space with all sorts of mysteries to unlock.  Its the little things… like when you lift up a boulder and see an insect or frog scurry out from under it… that you can then catch and use to make potions.  The world feels vast and empty at times… but it really isn’t.  Every copse of trees is placed there with purpose and reason… and many hold puzzles that unlock one of the around 900 korok seeds that are available.  This is if nothing else a game about exploration and trying things until you can figure out how to make something work.  The shrines are essentially the ultimate form of this expression, and as I have gotten deeper into the game… they are no longer the “use this one effect” style and more “chain everything you know how to do in different ways” effect.  There was a puzzle last night where I had to use ice blocks to get objects out of the water… and throw them into a metal basket that I could then lift in the air with my magnetic ability and use the wall to tip the basket over and dump them onto a target.  It took me quite a bit to realize that was my end goal and how to maneuver all of the elements into place to get it to work…  and I found it an overall awesome experience.  The part that I find interesting is how much I don’t mind the constant “Game Over” screen, because there is almost always a save just around the corner from wherever you happened to die… and you can get right back into the action almost immediately.

Functionally this month has not gone at all like planned… I expected to be spending all of my time in Horizon Zero Dawn… and instead I seem to be logging way more hours in Zelda at the moment.  I also did not expect to be feverishly searching for a switch… with the realization that if I find one I will ultimately start over from scratch again.  In any case I need to wrap this up and get on the road.  Just a heads up to my loyal readers, I will not be doing a morning post tomorrow and instead be doing some sort of an evening post when I finally get home.  Until then I would love to hear your thoughts on Zelda and if it is nearly as sticky for you as it seems to be for me.

Rotational Hell

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Apparently according to Storm I am still logged into Final Fantasy XIV downstairs on the laptop…  so that is something that I am going to have to take care of before I head to work.  I ended up in that state because I had probably the worst Palace of the Dead run I have ever experienced.  Before leaving floor 51 we had to use the rez shrine three times…  because for whatever reason people kept running in to aggro entire rooms worth of mobs at the same time.  Had I been the last one standing I would have just wiped and ended the run.  However I kept trying to pull things out, but since I shifted to being a monk to level that job…  it just wasn’t happening.  So instead I wound up leaving the party and eating the 30 minute debuff that keeps me from queuing for anything else.  At which point I THOUGHT I logged out… and wandered off into the bedroom to play some Zelda, never to actually return.  I am not entirely certain why I find this game so damned compelling.  It is like an unsolved puzzle that I keep going back and fiddling with…  and while I don’t make a lot of progress in any attempt…  I keep plugging along.

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I have however found the absolute bane of my existence.  Firstly the game has a ton of shrines like the one pictured above scattered throughout the country side.  Inside of each is a puzzle that requires you to do something to utilize the various skills and abilities that you have collected to that point.  However there is one shrine type that I am absolutely certain was not designed for Wii U players.  Every so often you encounter these gyroscope gadgets that force you to stop using the Pro Controller and pick up the Wii U Fisher Price Little Tykes Gamepad.  I may be bitter about the Gamepad and its over sold promise of being able to play the console remotely from within your house…  so long as that somewhere is within 5 feet of the base unit.  Anyways the puzzle requires you to rotate the gamepad to solve it…  but it also requires you to do some super contorted angles that make you feel like you are steering a garbage barge down an interstate.  The primary problem however is the fact that when you are playing with the GamePad…  the video feed is ALSO on the game pad.  If I could figure out how to get this to work while holding the tablet but staring at the television I would probably be okayish with this process.  However during these puzzles it seems to always want to put the video feed on the tablet, which means that when I have to flip the tablet upside down or something stupid like that… it also means I have to contort myself in all sorts of bizarre positions so that I can still see the tablet screen.  I’ve completed two of these at this point and hated every minute of it, but I am just assuming these were designed for the much higher fidelity rotational sensors of the switch joycons… and that the Wii U players simply get fucked by an outdated experience.

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The only other real problem that I still have with this game is the durability bullshit.  You have to understand… that I am one of those players that finishes a Final Fantasy game with 500 potions of various kinds because I feel like I need to hold onto them for a moment when I “really need them”.  So when that moment never comes and the final credits roll…  I think why the hell did I hold onto those potions.  That said it is an instinct that I just cannot root out of me, and it is severely effecting my enjoyment of Zelda because I feel like I cannot risk using any weapon that is not complete and total crap…  because I might need it at a later date.  So instead I am using various sticks and clubs while I have a Guardian Sword sitting in my bag just waiting there, begging me to use its awesomeness.  Instead I have that and another awesome looking sword flagged as “for a boss fight” but you can damned well be certain that when said boss fight comes along… I am going to try and defeat them with a bunch of expendable garbage first.  I think part of it is the simple fact that I never quite know exactly when I am going to get my next reasonable weapon.  If there were a swordsmith in one of the towns… then I could at least know that I could keep returning to them and stocking up on good weapons and shift my mindset to farming rupies to pay that upkeep.  So instead I am just stuck in this indecision hell of not knowing when I can and cannot use reasonable weapons for fear that I might be stuck in a bad situation with a bad chock full of worthless crap.

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For a game that causes me so much internal strife… I am constantly amazed that I keep returning to it.  Every time I see the game over screen…  I keep hitting the button and starting again trying to sort out what went wrong during the fight.  This is not a souls game, but I am sort of playing it as though it were.  I still think however this would be a much better experience on the Switch and I am constantly annoyed with myself for not pre-ordering.  I knew this would happen.  I knew that a combination of demand and Nintendo’s piss poor supply chain management would end up with no units available for purchase.  I’ve checked every place I can think to check and now am simply resigned to hope for one of a handful of places to restock, which is supposedly coming mid April.  The other level of hell that I have wandered into… is that I am now trying to collect the Zelda related Amiibos because you can get nifty shit in game for using them once a day.  Those also seem to be completely sold out, and each day at lunch I have been venturing to new places to see if they happen to have any left.  For a game that obviously frustrates me… I cannot put my finger on why I am finding it so damned sticky.  It reminds me of the feeling you have when you are watching a horror film and screaming at the person not to go into the closet…  but also at the same time wanting them to go in…  so you know what is inside the closet.  Zelda Breath of the Wild is a deeply conflicted experience…  but man do I at least on some level deeply love it.

Ballad of Cowboy Ninja

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This weekend largely belonged to Final Fantasy XIV and the brief appearance of the Cowboy Ninja.  One of the huge benefits of leveling through Palace of the Dead is the fact that you end up with a bunch of treasure tokens…  that often times reward awesome cosmetic gear.  Pretty early into my process of pushing the Ninja from 38 to 50 this weekend I stumbled across the above Cowboy hat and from that point out my path was set.  I gathered a bunch of appearance goodies that I had collected from running the dungeon over and over…  namely because my appropriate level gear was a subligar and harness.  The three main appearance items that all came from palace of the dead are of course the Boarskin Survival Hat, Survival Shirt, and the Wind Silk Bottoms which are these bizarro red plaid pants.  Through out the weekend I ran the dungeon wearing this outfit and gathered up a bunch of commendations… I largely believe in appearance alone.  I am still around 25 coms away from my golden magitek mount so… in truth anything I can do to rake them in is a bonus!

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I think another huge factor for getting coms is being talkative in dungeon runs.  While Final Fantasy XIV tends to be a much more friendly experience as a whole than World of Warcraft, it is still a largely quiet one… especially when it comes to grinding Palace of the Dead 51-60 over and over.  Everyone more or less knows their roles and falls silently in place doing them, and I try my best to break up this monotony with some comments here and there.  I always start the dungeon run with a “Hey Folks :)” and finish with some variant of “Thanks for the run. Have a good one!” and then I watch as the coms slowly trickle in.  Sure it is formulaic, but it seems to work…  and the truth is I usually get responses back from the other players which is part of my larger goal of breaking the silence and getting folks interacting.  I mean it is not so formulaic that I have a macro set up or anything…  so there is at least that.  Regardless I hit 50 during Talking Dead last night and started working my way through the Ninja quests.  I had forgotten that I had a full set of high quality level 115 gear sitting in my bank waiting on me, that I picked up while questing my way through Heavensward.  So I also now look like a proper ninja as well.

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The other thing that I spent a significant amount of time playing this weekend was Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  At this point I have made a proper foothold in the world beyond the plateau, and in my travels I met Hestu.  I am pretty sure he is my spirit animal… and all he really wants to do is shake his maracas for people.  Thankfully by the time I encountered him I already had a few seeds to throw his ways, which I got by uncovering the hiding places of some of the Korok.  I still have this very mixed relationship with this game.  On one hand there are a bunch of things that I would love to change…  and on the other hand I just can’t seem to stop playing it.  There are absolutely things that feel needlessly obtuse and arcane…  but by the same token you feel rewarded when you finally figure out how this or that system works.  In many ways it reminds me of when I first set foot into Minecraft and had no clue how to craft anything at all… and simply started throwing things into the crafting bench to see what I might be able to make with it.  Cooking works exactly this way, and while I have no clue how to duplicate some of my efforts…  every now and then I get something truly awesome in the process.

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Another thing that is needlessly arcane is the process of taking screenshots from the Wii U.  For awhile I have known that you can hit home… click Miiverse and save a screenshot through that method.  The problem there is that there is really no way of actually getting at that screenshot other than looking in your album in Miiverse.  I mean you can share it with other people using Miiverse… but is anyone actually using Nintendo’s pseudo social network?  As a blogger I of course want access to the screenshots for the purpose of posting them on this blog, and in order to do that… you have to follow a completely different process.  The process begins much the same as the Miiverse route, but instead after hitting home you bring up your browser and navigate to this address…  i.nintendo.net.  This process will bring you to a “Nintendo Image Share” page that will allow you to connect to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr and post whatever happens to be on your screen at the moment you bring up the browser.  This in theory works on 3DS as well, but I have yet to test it out.  The images of me in Kakariko Village and of Hestu were snapped in this manor and it seems to work extremely well.  I mean like everything to do with Nintendo it is needlessly complicated… but it works.  As always I configured my Wii U to post to my screenshot twitter account that I have connected to the PS4 as well.  I highly suggest having a secondary account for screenshots… that way you can without feeling bad dump twenty screenshots in a single night.  I do however need to check this out on the 3DS and see if this will finally allow me to get proper screengrabs of the games I am playing there.  How was your weekend?

High Sodium and Paragliding

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This morning I am going to start the blog out with some tales of high sodium content.  It is safe to say that the Final Fantasy XIV “serious gamer” community is grumpy as hell right now.  Essentially the downtime on Thursday introduced the return of the Diadem… which is functionally what Free Company airships are used for… and also something that I have never actually gotten the chance to participate.  My understanding is it is a giant outdoor timed hunt zone of a sort, that has lots of mini objectives that then can reward chests full of loot.  I am always down for Square to revitalize content that has fallen by the wayside… I am looking at you hunt marks.  However why folks are super salty about this is that apparently there is a phenomenally rare chance at getting a 280 weapon to drop while doing the content.  This is of note 5 item levels higher than either the latest relic step or the weapons from Savage Alexander.  Ashgar posted a comment in our podcast slack that I can only assume came from reddit…

Can confirm, am salty.

Then I did some napkin math and if one person of the 72 players who participated wanted to get a specific weapon out of the 13 available, they’d need to do the Emergency Mission 1000 times to have a reasonable (read around 65%) of obtaining it. For a 90% chance of obtaining it, you’d need to put 2200 attempts into Emergency Missions.

If you play the roughly 2350 hours we have until we get early access to SB, you will at one emergency mission per hour, distribute 150 hours of sleep and non FFXIV related over 98 days, lets say you spend 30 min each day on food, personaly hygiene etc. and you will sleep for 1 hour per day. This is, of course, calculated with queue times estimated as 0, which I’m sure they will be. /s

So the thing is… getting one of these 280 weapons is quite literally winning the lottery.  It is not something anyone can reasonably aspire to, but serves as enough of a carrot to get people interested at all item levels of gear to start doing Diadem once more.  This absolutely fits the modus operadi of Yoshi P and crew… which is largely bribing players to do whatever content that they feel is under represented by placing the big new shiny rewards there.  What I don’t get however is the folks claiming they are going to cancel the game over this action.  This has been the way content is balanced from the beginning of A Realm Reborn…  and nifty things through bribery is a constant theme.  This does not however negate the work you put in on either a Alex weapon, or your Relic because nothing can ever tarnish the shine of those memories.  If you are playing a game only to have things no one else will ever have…  then you are probably playing for all of the wrong reasons.  Numerical perfection is a constantly moving target, and one that will be outdated the next time a new patch lands.  However if you just play for the joy of playing… and the memories of accomplishing content with your friends… then no one can ever take that from you.  What I see instead is a company throwing one hell of a carrot into content that would have easily become outdated the second it launched, and more importantly is a way of getting folks geared in 265 gear which will help their transition into Stormblood.

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One again I am super annoyed with having to snag screenshots from the web and use them in my posts when I talk about Breath of the Wild.  The Wii U is so cludgy when it comes to posting screenshots, but I suppose at some point I really need to figure out how to make it work.  Last night instead of hanging out on the sofa or upstairs… I opted to chill in the bedroom and play some more Zelda.  As of the end of last night I have officially left the starter zone, and in truth the biggest thing holding me back… was the fact that I could not figure out how in the holy hell to cook things.  My key problem with Zelda is that things just feel grossly un-intuitive.  For example…  I expected to be able to walk up to a cooking pot… and see a “Press Button to Cook” prompt.  However this never actually happened and instead I had to google it… and then google it again until I found someone who could explain it in simple enough terms to treat me as though I understood nothing about this game.  There are a lot of steps to this process that are not painfully obvious or were not to me.  First off you have to make sure that your cooking pot has a fire under it…  so for me that meant taking a branch…  catching it on fire and then whacking the cooking pot which then lit the wood underneath it.  From there you have to go into your inventory and press X on the materials to “hold” it.  That however is not enough… you have to press A to add the item to your arms…  and you go through and pick out the ingredients you want to cook doing this.

Finally when you exit the menu… you see the prompt to cook the items link is crudely holding…  and you are treated to maybe the most magical tune ever.  Like I am already hooked on cooking because I want to hear that tune over and over and over… and I tried cooking damned never everything in my inventory that looked even vaguely edible.  There is a completely magical remix that blends the tune with the Carmen Sandiego theme.  The cooking gave me access to frost resistance food… which then in turn gave me access to the last two shrines which allowed me to leave newbie plateau.  I feel like maybe I am starting to hit my stride with this game, and maybe stopping the comparison with Horizon?  Probably the highlight of last night for me was finding the Great Plateau Steppe Talus and then defeating it…  after so damned many deaths.  One of the things that I like about this game is that the auto save points seem to be sprinkled around just often enough… that you are really never losing too much time in making an attempt.  So for the Steppe Talus, the save point was just outside of the little valley it is in so I could quickly run back and keep trying things until I finally defeated it.  The trick for me was to try and stay on at all costs which meant sometimes crawling back down into climbing mode, and other times just simply running around on top to make sure I didn’t get knocked off.  The hardest part however was once again the fact that no one weapon would ever last more than a handful of swings so I literally killed it…  with a single weapon left in my inventory.  This made it extremely awkward trying to kill a handful of skeletons that spawned as I was walking out of the valley.  Whatever the case… I think I see the potential now for what boss fights might be like and I also sort of get the reference to souls games.  That term gets thrown around way too much lately, but in this case I think they largely mean the need to keep learning new tricks to defeat overwhelming odds.  In the case of the Steppe Talus, if I got hit once… with a solid enough hit it was simply over.  So I very much had to stay ahead of the combat, and only through not making any mistakes was I really able to defeat it.

Docks and Bellowbacks

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I believe I have talked about one of my side projects before, but for those who are un-indoctrinated…  I have been charged with setting up a gaming space at work.  For the first pass we decided to go with a Wii U given that it is sort of a universal middle ground between folks who self identify as gamers… and those who do not.  Everyone has played at least one round of Wii Bowling, and already since installing folks I never thought would sit down for a game of Mario Kart have done so.  Part of the build out involved picking out controller docks because we did not want a bunch of wayward cables.  For the Wii U pro controllers I chose the above dock by Nyko…  admittedly more on price than anything.  However after getting it and setting everything up… I am absolutely in love with the design.  Each controller has a boot of sorts that you plug into the USB port, and it fits relatively snugly.  Then on the backside is a magnet that holds the controller in place on the dock itself.  It just works amazingly well and the magnet is strong enough to not only hold the controller but also serve as a guiding mechanism to make sure that the controller gets docked successfully.  Which made me start to wonder…  does Nyko make these docks for any other console system?  My challenge is that in my office I have a PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and am contemplating moving my Wii U back upstairs.  That is five different styles of controllers that need to be charged and cradled in a reasonable manner to keep from getting a whole slew of cords tangled.

The tragedy however is that while Nyko makes controller docks for pretty much every system available…  none of them work like this one.  In a perfect world you could simply buy one base dock tree and then a bunch of connectors for the various controller types that you have.  After a few hours of frantic googling… it seems like no one really has a system that works like this.  There was however one apparently for the previous console generation that had support for the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360…  but for whatever reason never carried forth into this generation.  What I would love is for Nyko to simply just release versions of this docking system for all of the platforms, or in truth…  just sell me docks and then controller boots individually and allow me to mix and match my own system.  In part I am writing about this problem today, because often times as soon as I complain about an issue… one of my readers comes out of the woodwork to present a solution.  So if you have any ideas…  that does not involve access to a 3D printer because I am already thinking along those lines…  I would love to hear it.  It is honestly the magnets that make this system work so amazingly well and quite honestly…  I don’t have the electrical chops to make a magnetic USB connection work.  I think part of the problem is that the Wii U pro controller uses the USB connector that the previous generation used…  so mini instead of micro.  That said… this feels like money left on the table because I know a lot of people like me with multiple console systems all with controllers that need charging.

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Last night I returned to the cursed lands and continued my process of roaming around aimlessly.  I went a completely different direction than the one I had been heading in… and encountered the Fire Bellowback…  or as I think of them Fire Beetles.  I ran into a trio roaming around some ruins… and after scanning them a few times to sort out how I was going to attack I went after them with gusto.  The thing I didn’t expect was the fact that they essentially throw napalm at you, and have an insane range.  I was well into the fields on the far side of the river and they were still lobbing fireballs at me.  Essentially I got damned good at dodging while fighting them, and eventually whittled them down using my bow kitted out with extra tear damage.  As you can see in the above screenshot they each rewarded an insane 1050 experience, but also provided a hefty amount of salvage.  Other than that I actually started working on quests… namely the “Revenge of the Nora” story line.  I have been playing this game in short spurts, and prior to last night it largely meant just roaming around and taking down machines.  I cannot underline just how much fun that is… and how perfect the game play feels as you bulls-eye a watcher in the eye and watch it explode.

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I really like that Horizon seems to reward you equally for aimless roaming and focused gameplay.  I essentially had looked at the direction that the game was suggesting I go… and went in the opposite direction and largely…  that was a completely fine decision.  It was not really until last night that I finally sat down and started following the quests… and that too was a perfect fine decision.  I am broke once more however because I bought a purple set of armor, and decided to go with the version that has balanced resistances since… more often than not I end up in melee range before fights are finished.  Probably a lot of my success with the fire beetles is due to the fact that I had fairly decent resists going on.  What I really want now is some upgraded weapons, because I am still using the Carja bow that you get from either collectors edition or the pre-order bonus.  I got a whole slew of items and I am not completely sure which ones came from which thing.  I’ve heard that the hunter trials reward items, so in theory I need to focus on doing some of those now.  Regardless this game is still freaking amazing… and it serves as part of the reason why I have struggled to get into Breath of the Wild.  In many ways the newest Zelda game just feels awkward and cludgy…  whereas Horizon absolutely nails smooth and flawless gameplay.

Cars and Wielding Garbage

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I said this over the weekend and I feel like I need to reiterate it this morning.  For a little over a month my wife has been passively looking for a new vehicle.  When she hit 120,000 miles on her Pontiac Torrent all sorts of little things started failing.  The latest is a check engine light being caused by something in the engine emission filters… which in itself isn’t a huge deal apart from the fact that it disables remote start while the engine is in an error code.  So for a month now I have been receiving links to vehicles from my wife, and we’ve made a few ventures out to car lots to see what we think of various models.  There is an auto lot within a mile of the house that leaves all of the vehicles unlocked so that it is sort of a tradition to go there on Sunday when you to check out various vehicles unmolested by sales people.  There are a lot of vehicles that got marked off of the list simply because my knees would not fit underneath the dash, and some others the first time my wife test drove them.  We had narrowed things down to a half dozen different models, and one lot about an hour from where we live seemed to have all of them.  The irony is  that when we ultimately bought a vehicle…  it wasn’t even one that was on the short list.  The whole car buying experience thought feels foreign to me, and grossly outdated.  During this whole sequence of events we found out that no car lot has anything even resembling updated inventory on their website.  Its like this entire process is stuck somewhere back in the 1960s and never quite graduated to modernity.

My wife and I are both very data-centric people…  and actively reject the “personal touch” that car salesmen try and put on the deal.  Fortunately we maybe found the perfect sales person for us, who literally just handed us the keys to the vehicles we wanted to check out and left us completely alone to wander around the small town.  Over the course of the day we drove I think five different vehicles, and spent a ton of time on our phones researching each of them while sitting in said vehicle.  The problem is… a vehicle seems to permanent.  We are not the type to trade them off frequently and instead tend to buy a vehicle and drive it until past the point it is paid off.  Finally it came down to a dance of “funny math” which is frustrating as shit.  Ultimately the dance involved the monthly payment rate, and a thin line in the sand that we were not willing to budge off of, which meant that in order to seal the deal given that we were not trading in a vehicle…  that the dealership had to come down off the price a bit.  There was a funny sequence of events where the dealer and my wife were both on their phones using the exact same financing calculator app trying to reach a consensus of numbers.  Whatever the case we wound up buying, after an  entire day of looking at this one lot…  and made it home just in time for the AggroChat podcast.

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The other big happening of the weekend is that I now have Zelda Breath of the Wild in my grubby little hands.  No that does not mean I have a switch, but instead have been playing it on the Wii U.  The screenshots I will be posting are not mine, but instead ones I have scavenged from the internet, because I do not have my Wii U set up so that it can go through a capture card… and I have never quite figured out how the hell to take a screenshot on the console itself.  Even more so I have no clue how to POST a screenshot someplace I can actually snag it if I did take a screenshot.  I have to say I have really mixed emotions about this game, and in truth I have barely just scratched the surface.  I’ve cleared two of the early plateau shrines and have been trying to figure out how to get to a third one that is in a snowy region.  Any time I get close to it, I start taking ticks of damage from the cold…  and this is the point where I realized that there was a temperature gauge in the UI.  The first hurdle that I have been trying to get past is the controls themselves.  The default mapping of buttons is not that great to use… with jump being assigned to X at the top of the button layout… where I am much more used to it being B at the bottom of the button layout.  This however apparently is something you can fix, but the other problem is I am so used to using triggers as weapon attacks in modern games and keep accidentally throwing whatever weapon I have equipped when I accidentally hit the right bumper.

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The other big problem I have been having is that so far the game has the “Halo problem” for me.  What I mean by that is that in Halo you have to constantly keep switching off weapons and wind up using some absolutely trash to try and progress through levels.  The same thing is happening here… where a given weapon seems to last maybe one or two combat sequences before it breaks and I have to hurriedly swap to some other random piece of junk I picked up along the way.  I’ve killed plenty of things by beating it down with a skeleton arm and I am not super proud of it.  This is a Zelda game… I want to use a sword and a shield and until the game gives me some sort of permanent option for this I am not going to be terribly happy.  It gave me a foresters axe early on… and I loved that weapon…  right up until the point that it broke and now I feel like I am constantly robbed of the amount of fun I had using it.  My fear is that I am going to bounce pretty soon if the game does not end up giving me some unlimited durability weapons that I can just use as often as I like.  As far as the goods however… once I got used to the clunky controls it does in fact feel like an open world Zelda.  I like that I can choose my own battles and that I see enemy camps usually well ahead of them actually attacking me.  There was a cool sequence where there were a bunch of bow wielding characters up in a tower with no visible way to get up.  However there was a draw bridge and I was able to sever the ropes holding it up with arrows causing it to fall down below and giving me access.  This is a primary example of the sort of visual puzzle solving that seems to be going on in this game, and the early shrines I believe are teaching you a toolbox that can then be used later in the game to solve more complex puzzles.  I do however absolutely want to stab the “Old Man” or at least push him off the tower, because I find him really annoying.