Like Its The End

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I am going through this really odd period with World of Warcraft.  My friend Grace and I had a conversation last night… and it feels like it is the end of an expansion.  I guess at this point in the last several expansions the game has been thoroughly in maintenance mode, and we were waiting with baited breath to see if someone announced anything about the expansion.  However in this case there is apparently still a good deal of content left to be released.  We’ve been told that we would be going to Argus, and the Tomb of Sargeras raid has not even opened…  so there are still big things looming on the horizon.  However the way I am approaching the game right now very much feels like what I do at the end of an expansion.  I am doing all manner of superfluous things that bring my pleasure.  For example during the Warlords of Draenor expansion you could not get me into Tanaan Jungle on a regular basis.  Once I got my flight… I disappeared from the zone almost entirely.  However lately I have been roaming around out there doing all manner of random stuff and attempting to farm Apexis Crystals.  Its like I suddenly decided that I really would like to get that Fel Raven mount that is available from there.  I’ve also started doing a bunch of achievements…  which is odd because generally speaking I am not an achievement driven person… at least not unless there is a mount or pet associated with it.

While I was roaming around Tanaan Jungle I suddenly decided that I wanted to kill the rares that I somehow missed along the way.  That lead to me getting the Jungle Hunter achievement for killing 25 different rares.  Then something inside of me was like…  why stop there…  and I looked up what the achievement was for killing everything.  Last night I sorted out how to get the last couple I was missing and wound up completing the Jungle Stalker achievement for killing all 60 different named rare mobs in Tanaan Jungle.  What is so weird about this is the fact that there is absolutely nothing in it for me…  no title, no mount, no pet…  none of the things I normally chase after.  I just suddenly decided I wanted to do it… and then did it because it was something that existed.  Now part of me wants to go around killing all of the named rare mobs in all of the different zones of Warlords…   and then maybe Pandaria as well.  Ultimately I have zero clue why this is suddenly compelling to me… because there are lots more productive uses of my time.  However World of Warcraft, especially running around older content is sort of the pinnacle of “comfort gaming”.  I have also been running a lot of older raids attempting to complete various cosmetic sets… that I will honestly probably never wear.  There is just something enjoyable at this very moment about checking things off of a list.

I often times have some of the most fun in World of Warcraft when the game is in the lull state at the end of an expansion.  I am in no rush to complete anything and not attempting to keep up with anyone else that happens to be progressing faster than I am.  I only casually care about raiding, or I have already completed the raid content and shift into a sort of permanently piddling mode of play.  Whatever the case it feels like I have generated this artificial bubble of lull, to where things really are not effecting me in any serious way.  Sure I am actually raiding again…  but doing so in a super casual manner and largely doing content that folks have on farm just for the sake of hanging out with my raider friends. Even though I know in the back of my head that we are going to continue getting a drip of content for awhile now…  I am largely okay pretending it is the end.  I seem to be able to play more freely and pull random goals out of the air and work towards them.  While it would be awesome to get some dungeoning in every now and then… I am happy with not feeling like I am letting someone down by not grinding seriously towards some long term objective.  I realize that as soon as Stormblood launches… I will be back in the rat race and trying to make sure I am as well geared as possible to be able to tackle all of the new content.  However for the moment I am enjoying this enhanced state of chill.

Destiny 2 Feels

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So yesterday was the big reveal of Destiny 2 gameplay and I have to say I am not disappointed in the least.  In fact at this very moment I am feeling inordinate amounts of Destiny love.  There were a few things that were released that gave me all the feels.  The first is the “Story of Zavala” trailer of sorts that tells the tale of how he came from being a corpse somewhere in the cosmodrome to being the leader of the Vanguard.  Unfortunately I have not seen this trailer released separately so you have to catch it about 14 mins into the video that I linked… which is the entire Destiny 2 reveal stream dumped to YouTube.  In that trailer you see a young Amanda Holliday getting her first look at a starship, so that in itself was completely priceless.  The second cavalcade of feels comes from the gameplay reveal trailer…  which appears to be cut from what is going to be one of the intro cinematics showing how the tower falls.  There is a moment in the trailer for each class where they get to shine…  and I absolutely got all the feels when I saw Zavala call everyone to him and raise a Titan bubble.  There are similar badass moments where Ikora Rey Nova Bombs a Cabal transport, and Cayde-6 Golden Gun’s three Cabal troopers.

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Destiny 2 is a tale of starting over after a monumental fall from grace, which in itself is probably the best way of dealing with a power reset scenario.  Having spent the last week playing through the Fallen Empire storyline in Star Wars the Old Republic… I absolute approve of the notion that sometimes you need to shuffle the deck to freshen up the game.  What I like the most about what I saw though is that everything looked and felt like it was still Destiny…  just with the Destiny-ness sliders moved all the way to eleven.  They reveal that we are going to four new places…  but in part I am hoping that given time we will also revisit areas that we have been to before.  The maps themselves are supposedly more open world style, or at least the one that was showed reminded me of something on the scale of the Hinterlands from Dragon Age: Inquisition with lots of active hotspots to go explore and find adventures.  This is definitely playing to my core desires as a player, but I am also hoping that it still has directed story missions for the folks like Tamrielo who tend to bounce super hard from “now go explore” setups in games.

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It sounds like all of the things that made Destiny awesome are coming back, but that they are adding a whole layer of new stuff on top.  To be truthful if you look at my characters stats… I have spent a significant number more hours doing patrol missions than literally anything else in the game.  Just as a reference according to my Profile on Bungie.net… on my Titan I have played a grand total of 14 days 15 hours… and of that time 7 days 4 hours was in Patrol mode.  So giving me a big open world to roam in is absolutely going to serve my interests.  However it sounds like the strikes and raids and crucible modes are all coming back with a vengeance with brand new concepts being introduced.  It also seems like some of the specs are being tweaked… and I am not sure if each class is getting a wholly new sub class or if we are just losing one and gaining one.  Titans for example I know have a Void class that revolves around wielding a shield like Captain America.  Warlocks have a new sub class that gives them flaming angel wings and lets them wield a giant flaming sword.  So I am not sure if those are in additional to the subs we already have… or if those are now replacing the Defender Titan and Sunsinger Warlock.  I mean I am hoping we get something new… but Defender was absolutely one of those sub classes that was super niche and extremely hard to complete “kill with elemental abilities” sort of bounties.

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The biggest news from yesterday is that the PC client would be going through Battle.net…  which is curiously being referred to as Battle.net and not the Blizzard Launcher.  I said before that I would likely never stop calling it Battle.net, and I am guessing maybe they have rethought that branding decision…  now that a non-Blizzard game is going to be using that infrastructure.  This decision has a lot of positives and as far as I am concerned fairly few negatives.  I’ve spent over a decade now cultivating a community inside of the Blizzard franchise games, and knowing that I can carry that ready made community into Destiny is going to be a huge bonus for me.  What Bungie is getting from PSN and XBL is an account system that takes care of all of the day to day friend maintenance and messaging functionality and lets them just connect up a game to it.  I mean the option  that we all probably through they would be taking was to integrate this game with Steam completely, and rely on steam users for profiles.  However to be honest, Blizzard does a far better job of policing its own network than Steam does, because quite frankly it is not in the interest of Valve to clamp down too harshly.  The only negative here about any of this is that it sounds like the PC client will not be available on day one… and will instead be a console launch only.  Ultimately I was going to buy  this on PS4 and PC anyways… so this is not a huge deal for me…  however it is going to suck for anyone who wants to hold out for the PC.

My dream that is likely to go unrealized is that I could have a single set of character spread across all of the platforms.  I am perfectly okay with purchasing a PC client, PS4 client, and Xbox One client…  and not necessarily being able to cross play between them.  However I would love if my characters which are attached to my Bungie account carried over and worked on each platform.  Let me play with my PC friends, PS4 friends and Xbox friends with the characters I have spent so much time building.  I mean I managed to get my Xbox One character up to 370 light…  but that feels pittiful compared to my stable of three 400 light characters on the PS4 side, each with access to a vault full of awesome stuff.  Compared to the 14 days on PSN… I have only played 21 hours of the Xbox One gameplay because not having all of my toys was always a major set back.  Since the characters are bound to the Bungie account… they could absolutely make this thing happen.  They just need the will to do so.  So I have hopes and dreams… but I am fully expecting them to get dashed in the long run.  At this point however I am just riding the hype train and so freaking ready for this game to come out.

Level Scaling Tech

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I am in this place with SWTOR Knights of the Fallen Empire where I am honestly not sure what more I can say without my blog turning into a massive spoiler fest.  There are a lot of events going on and many of them have surprised me.  This is a little shocking given that I consume a lot of gaming media and that KotFE has been technically out since October 2015.  I am not sure if I purposefully ignored SWTOR articles… or if I just didn’t come across that many.  Whatever the case essentially everything from Shadows of Revan onward has been a completely new story experience for me without me knowing any of the elements ahead of time.  So while I recognized characters like Theron Shan or Lana Beniko…  I knew nothing about them going into this recent binge of playing the game.  We’ve talked about this on the podcast before, but returning to an MMO and seeing years worth of content laid out in front of you is a pretty great thing.  Especially in a situation like SWTOR where they have a reasonable level scaling system.

Yesterday Syp posted something over on his personal blog Bio Break talking about level scaling systems.  His specific discussion centered around whether or not level scaling systems were good for games, which was brought on by his recent journeys in LOTRO.  Over time my own feelings about the systems have changed.  You can scan through the backlog of this blog and find me talking about Mentoring systems, where games allow high level player A to drop down to the level of player B and run content with them.  This seemed to me like the most elegant solution to the problem of being able to run content with your friends.  That was until I encountered Guild Wars 2, and the fact that no matter where you go your character is scaled down to the level of the world.  The concept of evergreen content is a big one for me… because I like when a game expands over time rather than contracts.  While Guild Wars 2 is not the best example of this… because of the fact that there is plenty of content that you will never be able to play again in that game…  it did make me appreciate level scaling as a replacement for mentoring.

The only problem there is that when the world is constantly the same level as you, it robs you of one of the quintessential MMO experiences of leveling up and becoming more powerful.  The world always feels the same to you, because you are functionally always the same relative ability levels to it as you level.  In situations like that the levels themselves feel like a completely extraneous concept.  Why even have a number that goes up if the world is always going to be functionally the same difficulty.  When we started playing Final Fantasy XIV they had an extremely elegant solution for this in the form of their dungeon finder.  Each dungeon had a functional level range from the moment you first were able to zone in… to the moment that it considered was the upper bound of levels.  So if the average mob level in an area was 35, then functionally the maximum level the game would allow you to be was 40, scaling everyone over that level down to that point.  The only negative here is that this ONLY applies to dungeons, and in truth it would have been interesting to see this same sort of system just work out in the world as a whole.

That I guess is functionally what is going on in Star Wars the Old Republic, and I am loving it.  Each piece of content be it planet, flashpoint, or something else… has a functional level range attached to it.  Once again it is functionally along the lines of being five or so levels over whatever the maximum level of encounter for that area.  Then the game rewards you as though you were fighting something your own level in terms of both experience and loot drops.  This means that you can go anywhere and do anything without feeling like you are getting nothing from it.  At launch this was absolutely a problem with SWTOR and it was extremely easy to out level an area, and reach a point where the experience gain was no longer worth the time you spent on a planet.  This was especially true as I remember on Tatooine which in itself was a huge planet with lots of side content.  By the time I “did everything” I ended up several levels ahead of the curve and functionally kept getting more and more over-leveled as I went through the rest of the planets.

Now there is a certain measure of freedom in being able to just go and do the content without having to worry about level… and in many cases gear.  While leveling my Imperial Agent, there were a few points where I went 10 levels without upgrading any of my gear… and really did not notice a significant amount of power drop off.  Then again I did exit the class storyline at level 58… so there was some significant over-leveling going on there that might have been easing the transition.  The thing with this system is however that while you are gaining power and you FEEL powerful… there is never a point where you are just waltzing through  field of enemies gently tapping them and watching them explode.  When you run someone through a low level dungeon in World of Warcraft for example on your level capped main… you can functionally breathe on mobs and they impale themselves in a shower of loot.  SWTOR feels like a happy medium, of letting your power level increase without completely trivializing the game.  Sure most of the time I am not actually afraid of death, but I still feel heroic doing content…  because I am having to use my abilities to take things down rather than a single auto swing.  As a result I have somewhat shifted my focus from user driven mentoring systems…  to seeing more games adopt this sort of level scaling.  The best part about Legion honestly was the way that content has scaled to the player while leveling through it, and if only Blizzard had applied this tech to the world as a whole… it would be a much more enjoyable experience.  I like knowing that I can revisit those areas that I enjoyed so much in the past, and still having an interesting time.

 

Netflix and Turtle

Yesterday when I wrote my post I was deeply looking forward to the Tuesday night FFXIV shenanigans.  However as the day went on things went sideways.  Its not so much that a sequence of bad events happened…  but more a sequence of events that robbed me of every single “spoon” I had to give.  I am very much a person who recharges my batteries by milling around by myself doing piddly things.  Each social engagement, even if it is just saying good morning to the security guard on my way in the building…  consumes a bit of energy that I have stored up in reserve.  Now that I am in management… it feels like those batteries deplete all too quickly flitting between meetings and making sure my team is taken care of.  One might question if management is really a great choice, but in truth it is one of those things that just sort of happened over time. I never set out to lead a guild, it just was something that I did because it needed to happen.  Similarly I fell into my current position because it just needed to happened, and the alternative was to hope someone else did it.

As a result I came home last night, cooked some dinner… and by the time I had cleaned and sat down on the couch I completely lost sync with time as a construct.  So at 8:30 I found myself apologizing to the FFXIV crew for needing some “turtle time” where I pull my head into my shell and pretend the world doesn’t exist.  I feel like this has to suck to experience from the other side of the equation, because I don’t always know when it is going to hit or what the ramifications are going to be.  All I know is when it does I just cannot deal with communicating with other people.  I have friends who experience the same sort of thing, and it is at least comforting that I am not the only person who goes through it every so often.  The only problem is the more I do it… the harder it is to break out of the cycle.  It reminds me in the days of this blog before I went on the whole crusade of regular posting.  The longer I went between posts… the harder it was to make the next one because it felt like this invisible audience was somehow expecting me to poop sheer brilliance out on the page every time I posted anything.  Similarly it feels like each time I withdraw, I have to psyche myself up to be some sort of rockstar version of myself to make up for the fact that I was in hiding.  I mean I know that is not actually the case, but it is super hard to explain that to anxiety brain.

What did I do instead last night?  Well I spent some quality time with Netflix… and tried to chill out and remember that everything is okay.  Over the last couple days I have watched the first episode of American Gods…  which makes me realize how damned long it has been since I read that book.  Things felt familiar in a fuzzy melange of the details I sort of remember about the book, so I guess that is a good thing.  I also watched Maria Bamford’s Old Baby…  which was delightfully bizarre.  I mean I suggest it, but you need to go in expecting it to not really be like any other comedy special you have ever seen.  I watched a handful of episodes of Dear White People, which I really enjoyed on a bunch of different levels.  Finally I finished the night watching the three available episodes of Handmaid’s Tale that were on Hulu.  The last one I am not sure if you can actually enjoy… because it is fucking disturbing.  I am hooked but on a stomach turning level…  I mean for whatever reason I never read the novel, and I think I probably should.  Probably not the best thing for an anxiety riddled mind, but I am glad that I watched it.

 

Taris is Horrible

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This weekend we went through some insane weather.  Namely just torrential amounts of rain and constant wind.  Thankfully the only “damage” is the fact that our outdoor furniture got strewn about mercilessly.  Last week we had a leak in the living room, on one of the days we were getting some horizontal rain.  Thankfully the roofer was able to come out Wednesday, and while he didn’t see any smoking guns…  he did notice that our flashing was raised.  After tamping back down and re-caulking everything, it seems to have worked because we more or less made it through the weekend without any more water slowly dripping down from the beam running across the room.  So far so good…  and while I am joking with the image above I am thankful that nothing bad really happened.  I know within an hour and a half of the house there was some massive flooding that for the most part caused houses to disappear in the rising waters.  Even within my own town while I drove around on Saturday and Sunday there was a significant amount of flood happening in small pockets.  The only thing that really seemed to take on water was a little bit seeping into the garage underneath the garage door.  Our front lawn however looked like an archipelago…  with lots and lots of standing water.

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As far as gaming went I spent a significant amount of time snuggled up on the sofa in a fuzzy blanket playing Star Wars the Old Republic on my laptop.  I am going through what always feels like the rough patch empire side, which is Taris to Hoth.  No matter what game you play it…  Taris is a shithole.  I mean it is less horrible when you are visiting it at night like you do during the empire campaign…  but it is still horrible.  Similarly Hoth is this giant bluewhite wasteland with music that seems to put me to sleep in a way that only snowcloak can.  As a result I am just trying to stay focused on the end goal, which is finishing up this class and getting on to other things.  The positive however is that the Imperial Agent storyline just keeps getting more interesting, which is shockingly not something I expected.  I don’t really go for the whole espionage thing, and while I found bond movies interesting as a child…  it was never really a life goal.  Whatever the case however I am finding myself drawn into the story, at the very least enough to keep moving forward.  I am however looking forward to taking a break tonight to get some Final Fantasy XIV friendtime in before returning once more to the story grind.

Generations are Weird

This is absolutely not a topic I would have chosen for myself, but it is one that has been swimming around in my brain since last night.  Last night my good friend Liore posted an article called “F*ck You, I’m Not Millennial” from Huffington Post.  I initially braced myself for yet another “Millennial Bash” article, but what I found was something that articulated the general sense of confusion I have felt my entire life.  Generations are an odd construct, and it could be argued that they don’t exist.  However there are significant differences between mindsets and outlooks every so often.  I think vastly different than my parents or boss who are firmly planted in the Baby Boom era.  My parents thought vastly different than my grand parents who were the children of the Great Depression.  I was born in 1976 which lets me claim the late 70s, entire 80s, and early 90s…  as my formative years.  So I have various traits of folks who grew up in all of those…  and not an entire matched set of any specific generational stripe.

In part I blame the internet and computers for shifting my focus on what I found important in life.  In High School I remember having to make an appointment at a big library an hour away to use the internet for a research paper…  which then largely involved WAIS and Gopher searches to find information to then download and print out.  Years later I met my wife over IRC and while we grew up 30 mins apart…  were introduced by a mutual friend living in Belgium.  So I largely grew up just accepting the fact that I was yet another Generation X member, even though I didn’t necessarily feel like I had all of the traits of Generation X.  According to the “sanity” version of the timeline in the Article above…  I am instead the first year of Generation Y, which is the generation that demographers largely forgot they spawned.  That break out honestly makes a lot more sense to me for a lot of reasons.  Firstly while my first console experience was Pong…. and we had an Atari that I remember fondly…  my gaming formative years were absolutely on the battleground of the Nintendo Entertainment System that I got in late elementary/early middle school.  So calling us the Nintendo generation seems fitting for a whole slew of reasons.

I still largely feel like I am out of sync with the generational construct.  Growing up I consistently hung out with folks way older than I was, and now that I am an adult thanks to the magic of the internet I tend to skew the opposite direction.  A large chunk of my friends are in their late 20s to mid 30s…  so while I feel like I definitely do not always see eye to eye with them…  I can at least understand their thought processes.  As a result I think my generation more than anything is a translation layer between what came before me, and what comes after me.  There are so many times at work I get pulled into discussions to do just this… and somehow explain to the Baby Boomer management what exactly the Millennial generation is saying or meaning.  Generations are this sort of social shorthand for trying to identify significant differences in the way groups of people were raised.  The problem with this is that I think the number of differences are accelerating, and before long there will really be no meaningful generational breaks.

Growing up when I did more or less in the 80s…  most families were fairly similar.  There were a lot of specific cultural touchstones brought on by the fact that we more or less had three channels of television to watch at a given time.  However as I aged everything was a sense of constant change… we went from records to cassettes to the Walkman to the CD to mini disc and finally ending up with the MP3…  and now streaming music services.  Media and entertainment was a moving target, that kept changing…. so we just accepted this as normal.  I remember I was a late adopter of the CD largely because I could purchase 2 cassette tapes for the price of 1 CD…  and that allowed me to get more music into my life.  There was also an element of scarcity in everything because I grew up in a town of 2500 people…  deep in flyover country.  To find any store not deeply constrained by limited stock, I had to travel roughly an hour to the south.  As a result we did a lot of experimenting and enjoying whatever the hell was available…  which lead to some extremely eclectic tastes pulled from the clearance bin at the mall.

Events felt larger and more homogeneous.  Everyone watched the Oscars because there was nothing better to do…  same goes for every awards show or movie of the week.  You could go to school the next day and it was pretty certain that everyone would be talking about the same things…  because there were a limited number of things actually happening on any given day.  Now other than shared interests…  I don’t have a clue one what is going on in most peoples lives unless I am intimately aware of the details.  To give the example above…  I’ve not watched an awards show or even really had one playing in the background as I did other things for at least a decade… probably pushing two.  The internet gave me access to so many better ways to spend my times, and as I grew up… it grew up too.  My first internet experiences were like many on AOL, but after racking up a $250 phone bill calling the next city over… that door slammed shut pretty fast.  It wasn’t until 93 / 94 ish when I got proper unlimited internet…  which involved a contorted system to actually get access.  I had to pay $20 a month to the phone company to make the next town over a “local call”, and then $40 a month to Galaxy Star Systems…  a budding regional ISP to get unlimited internet access at blazing 96000 baud dial up speeds.  So a grand total of $60 a month…  but it gave me doorways into completely different worlds.

I think in part this feeling of being an “Internet Pioneer” is what always drives me to keep trying new things.  It almost seems as though it is my duty to be the beta tester for everything that comes down the pipe since I have seen and experienced so much of what came before.  This feeling however I think is also what makes me feel out of phase with whatever generational boundaries I am supposed to be feeling.  My world has been one of managing change and figuring out how to deal with it.  I will claim that I do not like change at all… but when it happens I am generally the first to roll with the punches and sort out what the new normal is going to look like.  Maybe this is bombastic of me… but I would like to think of myself as being part of some Cipher generation… that uses our weird irregular experiences to help bridge the gaps between these other more traditional generations.  So while I might not understand the way a Baby Boomer thinks…  I can at least translate what I am saying in a way that is going to land and resonate with them.  I mean I do this as a job anyways…  translating deeply technical terms into a sequence of metaphors and easy to digest chunks that the business can understand.  Maybe I just always did this… and maybe the properties of whatever generation I happen to be really part of is a chameleon like sense of adaptability.  The only real normal we have ever experienced for any length of time… is change.

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.

Thoughts on Switch

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It has been a week or so since I got my Switch and I felt like I wanted to talk a bit about it this morning.  Firstly I really like this console and apart from the relatively low hardware specs and currently small games library, I have to say I think they are on to something.  There are a lot of reasons why I have bounced off handheld consoles, but primarily they never really fit the way that I wanted to be playing games.  In those brief moments where I needed the ability to play a portable gaming system…  they have always been great.  The problem being that does not match up with my default mode of play.  Generally speaking, if I am somewhere I can be playing games…  I am at home with my laptop, desktop and a slew of traditional consoles.  Playing games on a larger screen just feels better than playing on the tiny screen in your hands that you ultimately hunch your shoulders and crane down your neck to be able to play comfortably.  I have commented for some time that I wish I could play various mobile games on the television with an external controller hooked up to them.  Now functionally you can do this with the Vita via the PSTV box…  which is essentially a Vita for your television.  However this is not exactly a great solution since you are not actually playing on the same system you are using portable… and unless your game supports cloud sync there really is no keeping progress between the vastly different platforms.

Nintendo is known for creating gimmick based systems and there are so many times that I wished they would abandon this and just create a true console generation killer.  However they seem to be hung up on different ways of interacting with their games, but for me at least…  I always wish I was simply using a traditional controller playing a traditional game.  There are a whole slew of games that are functionally dead to me… because I hate the Wiimote and Nunchuck control scheme of the Wii.  The Switch is still a gimmick console, but this time the gimmick actually works in its favor by letting the console be whatever I happen to need it to be at the very moment.  Right now I am playing a significant amount of the time with the Switch docked into my console gaming set up in my office.  This lets me kick back and play with either the pro controller or the detached joycons and get into a comfortable long haul position for gaming.  However there are times when I would rather go lay down in the bedroom, because I am starting to wind down and really should probably be asleep already.  The Switch allows me to undock and take it downstairs… and the fact that it is chargeable by USB type C lets me also charge it down there without the expensive of a second dock.  If I would rather be downstairs because there is something on Television that I want to at least be in the same room with… I can either play it in handheld mode or prop the console up on my lap and play with detached joycons or even the pro controller once again.

Functionally the Switch is at least in part what I had hoped the Wii U would be.  Before owning one, I envisioned being able to play games on a big screen and when I wanted to head to bed grab the gamepad and use that instead.  The big problem there is that the short range of the gamepad made it impossible to really do this.  For awhile I had a compromise of having the Wii U hooked up in the bedroom, but when I wanted to play the thing in “console” mode that left me from a really comfortable way to play.  Sitting up with one leg hanging off the bed and zero back support does not exactly make for a comfortable gaming experience for long periods of time.  Nor did any combination of propping pillows up against the backboard and instead I found myself either laying down completely and playing with the gamepad or playing in short bursts with constant switching of positions trying to get comfortable.  What was sad about this is the fact that I really wanted to keep enjoying Nintendo games…  but the systems they were providing me to play them on really never matched up with the way I wanted to play anymore.  The Switch while it has its quirks really does being Nintendo gaming back into an era where I care about it again on anything other than a theoretical and cursory level.  The only problem is…  right now my Switch is a Zelda Breath of the Wild machine… and occasionally a Shovel Knight machine, and there just are not a lot of the games that I wish I could be playing on it.

What I am hoping is that we start seeing a bunch of titles ported to it, and I am hoping that Nintendo can somehow cross the Blue versus Green barrier and pull some titles from both camps.  I personally would love to see Persona 4 Golden released on the Switch given how hard I bounced off that on the Vita.  I think in theory I might be able to hook up the PSTV upstairs in my console configuration and be able to enjoy the experience, because the truth is I just never liked using my Vita enough to be playing it for extended periods of time.  I largely bought it as a remote screen for playing Destiny in bed, which is sad to say but true.  Thankfully I got it for less than $100 from one of my Craigslist deals, so I don’t necessarily feel super bad about that either.  The other thing that I am absolutely dying for is the Virtual Console…  sure I imagine Nintendo is going to make us repurchase things, but in truth I don’t much care.  The Switch really is the ideal system for playing classic games on because of its extreme convertibility.  I also really want to see the Pokemon titles get ported to the platform, given that more or less I have bounced pretty hard off of each of those at some point… because I simply didn’t want to play a handheld for long periods of time.  I also really want Castlevania Symphony of the Night on the platform… which is something admittedly that probably won’t happen but I sorta buy it on every platform it comes out on.  More than that though the Virtual Console is going to hopefully bring a whole slew of other Castlevania games to the platform which might be good enough for me.  Basically I see so much promise for this system… and now it is just a waiting game for companies to figure out how to port games to it… and hoping that Nintendo largely doesn’t get in the way of its success and fuck this up.

Archon of the Tiers

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This morning I am flailing quite a bit when it comes down actually sitting here and composing a blog post.  Its been one thing or the other… like a cat that decided she had to be held before she would relinquish the keyboard to me to actually type.  Or the fact that I spilled coffee on my shirt and needed to go change it.  Now that I actually sit down at the keyboard I am not entirely certain what I have to talk about.  Last night was a night devoted to Tyranny because Saturday we are recording our March AggroChat Game Club game show and I wanted to be able to participate in the conversation fully.  I like the idea of the Game Club, but I am a poor member.  I am highly susceptible to whims, and tend to get focused in on a game… or number of games at a time.  I am also super bad at forcing myself to finish some thing when I am really not that into it.  This is evidenced by the fact that my night stand is filled with partially finished books discarded when the mood left me.  There was a time when I was actually rather good at finishing games… in fact I spent one entire summer competing with a friend of mine trying to see how many Nintendo games we could finish.  The difference there however was that I had very limited options….  and now thanks to the commodity that games have become…  I have all of the options in the world to distract me from actually focusing on a game once the going gets less than enjoyable.  As a result I tend to bounce back and forth between the games that excite me the most and when any one of those games slows down…  I tend to stall and eventually stop playing it.

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Playing games for the game club often times feels like homework, and I either avoid it entirely… or put it off until the point where I cannot reasonably finish the game before the show.  There is a big reasons why I don’t really do reviews, because I never really have that drive to finish games.  In fact I have the opposite drive.  When I get sucked into a story and a world, there is a part of me that never wants the journey to end.  So I have found myself constantly reaching points in games where I am a few hours from the end… and then I simply never make that finish push.  It is like so long as I do not cross that hill then the adventure never has to end.  All of that said… I didn’t want this to be the case with Tyranny because I had a really amazing first weekend playing the game…  but stalled out at some point during the middle section.  However over the last few weeks I have tried to put in a few hours, every few nights hoping to pull through on the other side and get to a place in the game where the pace quickened once more.  Last night I seemed to hit that stride and found myself completely unable to stop playing as I circled the ending and finally finished around 11:30 last night.  I was not going to sleep without completing this… or at least what I hoped and apparently guessed right was going to be the ending.  All of this said…  I absolutely crave a continuation.  I want dlc or a sequel that lets me continue on from the point I reached in the main games arc.

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I don’t really want to go into a lot of details because I am largely saving them up for the podcast, but I have to say…  this was a really great game.  More shockingly it goes on the pile of games that I want to play through a second or third time because along the journey you have to make so many choices.  There are things that I did that I might have done differently.  The game is absolutely brutal in forcing you down a path based on your actions, and not letting you wriggle out from under those actions without consequences.  In many ways it reminds me of the way Undertale did this, with the exception that at least here you can reload a save file and try again.  However usually by the time you reach one of these branching points… it is too late because a series of tiny decisions will ultimately make or break your choices when it comes to a larger one.  The game flips so many conventions on its head, as you play through as the functional “bad guy” in the story…  but one that is entirely capable of making fair and just choices in spite of this fact.  In many ways there are chunks of my play through that remind me of what it was like trying to play a Light Side Sith in Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic.  I did not succeed entirely but in the grand scheme I thought I was doing a good job of walking the line…  until I reached the end and was forced to account for all of my past decisions.  This game remembers… and winds up rubbing your nose in them…  forcing you to confront the ramifications of each minor choice.  All told start to finish I spent 14 hours… and could have probably easily spent another 10 hours were I not rushing towards a fixed goal.  I highly suggest checking out this game if you are into classic Baldur’s Gate era PC RPGs.