Gratitude and some Gaming

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First off let me start today’s post by saying how much I appreciate the outpouring of support that I have had over the last couple of days.  I’m sorry that I have not responded to each of you individually…  but I just haven’t been in a great place to be able to do that.  My focus was trying to get through the last couple of days which also had the added bonus of being super stressful on the work front as well.  Each time I saw a message come through it helped, and I wish I had been able to really be sociable and such.  I had mostly been staying off social media the last few days apart from making a few random comments here or there to take my mind off things.  What makes the whole experience weird is we have had a ferret playpen in our living room for at least the last ten years…  so now that we have cleaned everything and removed it…  there is a visible void that will take some getting used to.

To add to the pile of woes that are happening…  I spend a lot of time on the sofa with my laptop remoted in to the machine upstairs.  We were eating dinner and I had to get up to check on the printer upstairs that was reporting to be out of paper.  I had pre-emptively filled it and apparently did not get it jostled just right for the sensors to notice.  As soon as I had gotten settled in and was about to kick out the leg rest…  the handle that does this broke completely.  Now the handle itself had broken some time back as it was plastic and not exactly the best idea for a part that would get a lot of constant use with a certain amount of force applied to it.  This time the pulley or spring or whatever ties the mechanism to the armature under the chair came loose and now the remainder of the broken lever flops freely.  This is part of a sectional…  and the manufacturer apparently no longer carries the design anymore…  which lead me to research a replacement part.  Apparently these handles are pretty standard and I managed to track down what appears to be a replacement and a new cable to boot just in case that actually snapped as well.  So there is a project on the stack for the weekend.

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As far as gaming goes…  I am still playing quite a bit of Marvel Future Fight via Memu Android Emulator each evening.  I largely just burn down the daily objectives similar to how I usually play Dragalia Lost.  I apparently did not notice this last night or this morning when I took the screenshot…  but I appear to have 3 heroes that I can unlock now because I had gathered enough biometrics while doing other things to get over the initial 10 threshold.  I’ve since swapped out Agent 13 to Luna Snow another one of the Netmarble created champions because the team bonus between her and Sharon Rogers is pretty nice.  More or less Sharon Rogers is the primary champion and Captain America and Luna Snow are just walking buffs.  At some point I want to spend some more time playing Iron Hammer which is an interesting Amalgam character of Ironman and Thor first seen in Infinity War #3.  Whatever the case playing a blend of Ironman and Thor is pretty sweet.

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I am also still spending a lot of time playing Dragalia Lost because the Fire Emblem event is still going on, and should have the next story block released today.  Both the summon changes and this event went in at the same time…  and it definitely feels like I am getting to summon way more often and without the worry of getting shitty wyrmprints the whole experience feels better.  I am still getting a lot of crap summons, but have managed to gather up several really nice ones over the course of the event so far.  Marth is my jam and the character I play the most in Smash Bros…  so I was super happy to get it here as well.  It reminds me that I really should return to playing some of the Fire Emblem mobile game at some point.  It is still weird to me how much mobile gaming I am doing these days… but the whole playing from bed thing is a way bigger pull than it used to be.

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As far as non-mobile gaming…  I played an awful lot of Lumines yesterday because zoning in on a puzzle game was an excellent way to forget about the world for awhile.  As a PSP owner I loved this game on that platform, and was super happy to see when it got remastered and re-released on the Nintendo Switch.  This is one of those games like Tetris that you can just blank out while playing and move into pure muscle memory territory, or at least that is generally how I play puzzle games.  The more I think about things the more I fuck them up… so if I can just reach a point where I am reacting automatically I am not psyching myself out.  The only real question is…  how do you pronounce this game?  I heard someone in a video the other day call it what sounded like “Lou Mines” whereas I have always called it “Lumin Es” sorta like Luminous chopped off with an Es at the end.  The fact that the game has always had a sort of shiny flair element above the I made me think this, but hell I could be wrong.  Lou Mines just does not sound right however.

Goodbye Shiloh

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Last night was a rough night, and one where we didn’t get an awful lot to sleep.  First off I am super thankful that we have an amazing vet that is open extremely late, and was wiling to stay there as long as it took us to finally reach the decision.  When you reach the point where you are capable of taking action…  there is still an awful lot of second guessing yourself but from the moment I got home there was not really a time when she was not regularly having seizures.  Before I left yesterday I had tried my best to stabilize her and she was resting relatively comfortably in one of her beds.  When I arrived at home that was very much not the case.

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So this morning we are going to remember Shiloh in happier times, napping in her toy box or bouncing on the bed.  It is weird how we quickly reach a point where we think things have always been this way.  The photo above was taken in July of last year and she was still her happy and bouncy self, seemingly unaffected by the fetters of age.  So what seemed like something that had been going on for years was in truth a fairly rapid decline over the past year.  The nurse last night remarked that she was one of the oldest ferrets she had ever seen come in to the vet…  that also specializes in exotics.  So I guess we stole a lot of good years that we might not have gotten otherwise.

While Bella that we lost in 2017 was “my” baby…  I still very much loved Shiloh so this has been hard to go through.  The experience also seemingly traumatized the cats…  one of which only came out of hiding after we got back from the vet.  It isn’t really over yet however… because at some point I have to go pick her back up…  so that I can bury her beside her cage mate Bella.  I don’t have much of a post in me this morning but I wanted to at least give an update since so many people offered support yesterday.

Depressing Real Life Shit

This is one of those moments where I don’t exactly have something that I feel like would make a good blog post.  Last night I was in a weird place where everything felt wrong.  It was the entertainment version of rummaging through your closet because nothing quite fits.  If you are blessed with excellent genes and have never had to deal with this…  then awesome go you.  However if you have been fat your entire life you are pretty much in a constant state of frustration and flux.  Last night I had the gaming equivalent of this going on with nothing much seeming like a good idea.  I even exited out of SWTOR in the middle of a solo flashpoint because I simply was not feeling it…  I have no clue what I will log into when I reconnect.  It would be weird if things just picked up from where I left off…  but I fully imagine that won’t be the case.

In part a lot of last nights frustrations were caused by the fact that I slept extremely poorly Monday night.  Again it was a fits of restlessness thing where I could not seem to find the right orientation of pillow, bed, body and blankets that made things conducive to falling asleep.  I know I drifted off at some point after 12:30 so somewhere closer to 1 in the morning probably, which when you get up at 5:30 means that was not much in the sleep department.  It was bad enough that I kept having thoughts of “well I might as well get up and do something rather than just lay here”, but never quite reached that point.  As a result last night I was nodding off on the sofa around 8 pm…  which mean’t that I ended up going to bed around 8:30…  only to be woken up at 4:30 by the ferret going through what sounded like a very painful set of seizures.

She is end of life, and we have pretty much just been trying to do whatever we could to make life easier on her.  However while sitting down to write this morning…  I’ve been interrupted because she went through another round.  So I am prepping myself for coming home tonight and finding that she has passed on.  Ferrets are not long lived animals… especially not with the modern state of Ferrets largely all coming from the same mega breeder.  Effectively almost every ferret that you see in the United States comes from a place called Marshall Farms in Upstate New York, and  “mill” Ferrets tend to have a lifespan of somewhere in the vicinity of eight years.  Shiloh best as we can tell is somewhere in the 10-12 year old range depending on how old she was when we got her… and since she was a rescue it is hard to properly gauge that.  She is the last of our ferrets having had four over the years…  and probably legitimately going to be the last one that we have because it is rough loving an animal so prone to dire complications.

I’ve got an awful lot of crap on my mind right now that is not gaming related, because Shiloh is not the only end of life animal we have in this house.  Allie has been fighting hyperthyroidism for awhile and we have reached the point where there isn’t much of anything that we can do.  She has started pottying in places that she should not be…  which means every night is a constant clean up process.  Thankfully she is doing so in a way that is easy to clean up…  but it is one of those constant grind sort of situations that just wears you down.  Having gone through several animals at this point in this state… I know what the answer will be…  that they will ultimately suggest that we put her down.  I am just not sure if I am ready for that, because she still snuggles with me every night and still has the loudest purr…  so I am trying my best to make the end of her life as good as possible.  Allie has always been “my” baby, and I guess as long as she is still actively seeking attention I am going to try really hard to keep giving it to her.

So yeah…  this ended up not being a game post at all.  I’m tired and just sorta want to crawl up into a ball and forget the world exists…  but gaming has not been granting me that escapism that I crave.

Regularly Playing: April 2019 Edition

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It has taken me until this morning to actually get around to writing one of these, but by god it is still april so it still counts in continuing this streak of posts.  I am notoriously bad at actually keeping a series going, which is weird considering I did the whole daily posting thing for over three years.  For those who are just tuning in once a month I attempt to true up my sidebar and talk about the games that I am actually regularly playing during a given month.  Some months there isn’t much net change and then other months we basically wipe the slate clean.  This is going to be on of those first types because a lot of things changed this month.  Without further stalling…  lets rip the band-aid off.

To Those Remaining

Dragalia Lost – Android

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I cannot believe that of all of the titles I was playing last month… that this is the only one that is still kicking at the end of the month.  Dragalia Lost has been going strong for me pretty much since release,  and in part it does well with me because there is always another event just around the corner.  Right now we are in the middle of an event that crosses over characters from the Fire Emblem series that came along with a big patch that changed the way that summons work.  No more useless Wyrmprints and now we can simply buy the ones we need from a vendor.  I play this every night before bed and at a minimum do my daily activities until I reach the point where I am just about to drop the phone…  at which point I plug in the charging cable for the night and go to sleep.  It has become a part of my routine, which means it is probably here to stay for awhile.

To Those Returning and Brand New

Diablo 3 – Switch

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This one never stays off the list for very long, which is in part why I am generally so hesitant to remove it when I eventually do.  There is a new season coming up and I fully expect to get re-engaged with this title during that time.  As to which platform I do it on is another decision point.  Right now my usual partner in crime does not have the switch so more than likely we will be teaming up on the PC.  I do however kinda want to make my way through a switch season and try to earn a bonus bank slot in the process.  I wish to all that is holy that I could just link my switch copy to my PC copy so I could sure rewards.  Cross play is a thing that is needed more than probably any other innovation in gaming.

Final Fantasy XIV – Console

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Another game that does not stay off the list for terribly long is Final Fantasy XIV.  I am not fully engaged with this game at the moment, but I did come back and finish all of the story content.  Since then I have been languishing a bit at trying to find something to draw me to the game and hold me there.  Most recently I have started working on beast tribe quests because who doesn’t love mounts.  I know I will return in full with the expansion because I always do… but for the moment I am struggling to find purpose.

Grim Dawn – PC

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I am not entirely certain if this game has ever made one of these lists but I have played it off and on since its initial early access release on Steam.  It only took me until recently however to actually fully engage with the game and find out how damned good it is.  This would be my replacement for Diablo 3 entirely…  if it were simply better at providing interesting multiplayer options.  That said I greatly enjoy what the game does give me, which is a largely single player experience that lets me pour my mind into it and watch fountains of loot explode around me as I do.  If someone was looking to get into an ARPG… this is now the title I would probably point them towards.

Magic the Gathering Arena – PC

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A brand new expansion has released and as a result I am back engaged with Magic the Gathering Arena.  War of the Spark promises to add a ton of new planeswalkers…  36 in fact…  and have the final conclusion of the whole Nicol Bolas storyline.  I was nowhere near as engaged with Ravnica Allegiances because none of the guilds included were really my jam apart from Gruul and maybe Orzhov.  Whatever the case I never really got super into what was happening and faded away from the content for a bit.  With War of the Spark however I am back in full and enjoying the experience…  and at the same time starting to do some direct duels with friends with the prospect of playing some weird decks in the future.

Marvel Future Fight – Android / PC Emulator

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I have been playing an excessive amount of this game lately, and it shocks the shit out of me.  Firstly this journey all started after being nostalgic about the Marvel Heroes ARPG by Gazillion and looking to see if anyone had managed to come up with a private server option yet.  In one of those threads someone mentioned that Marvel Future Fight on mobile devices was the closest that we had to that game…  which lead me to download…  and the rest is more or less history.  It feels weird for me to be playing a mobile game in place of other games…  because that is a barrier that I never quite crossed before even with Dragalia Lost.  Mobile games were something I only did when I did not have ready access to other platforms…  this I am playing on an Android Emulator with WASD controls like a traditional PC game.  The free-to-play-ness can be really annoying at times, but I am carving out whatever enjoyment I can get from it until this whim passes.

Mortal Kombat 11 – PC

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I’ve been having a strong itch to play some fighting games and I think it was brought on largely by the advertising about Mortal Kombat 11 making me nostalgic about my arcade rat past.  I am also dabbling a bit with Street Fighter V and some other games…  but more or less MK11 is the only one I am playing often enough to add to this list.  I even went so far as to pick up a Fight Stick as I talked about yesterday.  I’ve missed fighting games… and while I am nowhere near as good as I once was…  I want to regain at least some of those skills.  I will never be competitive…  but I figure I can still eek out some enjoyment.

Outward – PC

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I played this obsessively for several nights in a row and want to return to it.  I wrote at length about how this game reminds me of the way that Everquest used to make me feel.  I’ve been distracted by other games but I am adding this on the list if for no other reason than to remind me to return to it.  It is a very interesting title and one that I want to explore some more.

Star Wars the Old Republic – PC

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This is a title that I was not expecting to add back to the list anytime soon…  but Star Wars Celebration caused an upwelling of Star Wars nostalgia leading to me playing some of this.  When I last played I had finished the Fallen Empire storyline, and coming back I picked right back up with the Eternal Throne.  Now I am working my way slowly through some of the post Eternal Throne content, of which there are several patches worth and several new areas that have been added to the game.  So far I am really enjoying myself and it is making me want Ammo to do another “Belghast” this time my Jedi Guardian in the armor set above… that I scrounged hardcore for at release because I loved the look of it.  The storyline in this game is still really damned good and it does a pretty good job of scratching that KOTOR itch.

To Those Departing

Anthem – PC

Oh Anthem…  what a fraught mess you are.  I spent most of April waiting on the sidelines for a supposed “major” patch to land and fix all of my woes.  It never came, or at least not in the ways that I wanted it to.  Ultimately Bioware made a game that is different from the game that they intended to make… and has yet to realize this.  The other stance is that they could be trying to change the game fundamentally to become the game they intended it to be.  Whatever the case… they built Mass Effect Multiplayer with Flight and Diablo 3 loot…  but with a high end drop rarity rivaling World of Warcraft Legendaries or Destiny Exotics.  That rarity more or less worked in those games because every drop was curated.  Diablo 3 and Anthem  however with random affixes you get a lot of shit items so you need to get a lot of drops to allow you to sift through them to find something workable.  I likely won’t play the game again until the loot is raining down around us…  if the game survives that long.  I am hearing that matchmaking is already a ghost town most of the time, so here is hoping they can make significant enough changes to allow those of us who left to return during year 2 and see the greatly changed and improved game.

Baba Is You – Switch / PC

Super cute game and still probably on my list of best games for 2019…  but after the initial desire to play I sorta floated away from it.  I am sure I will return at some point but it doesn’t really need a spot on the list for the moment.

Destiny 2 – PC

No clue why on this one…  but I am just not feeling Destiny.  There isn’t a firm reason other than the fact that I log in and log out almost immediately.  From what I hear the game is in a better state than it has been in a really long time… and I am sure at some point I will make my return and obsess about it once more.  That said I am just not into it so I am letting it slip off the list.

The Division 2 – PC

Again I am not sure why… but I never latched onto this one as hard as I thought I would.  For awhile I was using it as a methadone for Anthem…  and then I stopped using it at all.  I am sure at some point I will cycle back around to this one but I might simply be “looter shooter”‘d out for the time being.

Pokemon Go – Android

This one ends its very long streak.  I still technically crack it up every so often, largely to hatch eggs…  but I had four eggs ready to hatch and I let that notification go for two weeks before actually doing anything.  It is a perfectly fine game, and if I engaged with some sort of a community I would probably get into it more.  I am trying to increase the amount of activity I am doing as a whole now that it has warmed up so it might have a resurgence.  That said…  my TicWatch tracks my activity without me actually having to open the app so I admit that was a nail in the coffin for this game.  Out of sight and out of mind…  you had a good run PoGo.

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Fight Sticks

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I’ve been going through a little bit of a fighting game renaissance lately, especially playing them on the PC with the release of Mortal Kombat 11 and diving into some Street Fighter V on the PS4.  I cut my teeth on the 90s arcade scene playing a lot of Street Fighter, Samurai Showdown, Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct.  However as time went on I faded away from that and dug more and more into PC gaming…  eventually joining the cult of gamers tied to our MMORPGs.  In that time fighting games have evolved and changed, and while I no longer have the reflexes that I once did I have wanted to regain a little bit of my youth.  One thing that I noticed while playing these fighting games on my Xbox One controller that I use with my PC…  is that my hand would get really tired really fast after trying to do the combos.  This lead me down the path of looking into getting a proper fight stick.

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For the uninitiated… fight sticks vary wildly in price and quality and it is entirely possible to drop $500 on a custom made stick with the best arcade components.  After a bit of research I started to notice that many of the custom builds I was seeing centered around using a Mayflash fight stick as a base and then adding additional components to it.  Mayflash is a chinese made budget fight stick that accepts universal arcade components and ships with its own Sanwa-knock-off buttons and joystick that I figured would serve fine for my purposes…  but give me the ability to upgrade later if I saw fit to do so.  Ultimately there are two models available… the F300 which seems to be more compact and probably ideal for smaller hands…  and then the F500 which I ended up getting which has a more spread out design ideal for my stupidly large hands.

The best part about these is the fact that they are wired to support pretty much every console I would ever want to play on.  Officially it supports… PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Android, Switch and the NeoGeo Mini.  There are probably some others that it actually works fine on as well.  The support for PS4 is a little janky because it requires you to connect an official PS4 controller to the fight stick that then uses it for pass through authentication with the machine.  All told however it has been amazingly simple to get it up and running with the platforms I have tried it on.  The F300 tends to go for around $60 on Amazon and the F500 for around $80…  however I managed to find an Ebay Buy It Now F500 listing with free shipping for only $55 so your mileage may vary.  The weird thing about that… is it shipped from Amazon so I am guessing it came from Mayflash directly that was running some sort of an Ebay Special that I legitimately got the last listed copy of.

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One of the nice things about this particular stick is the fact that it came with both a Square Gate and an Octagonal Gate.  I’ve swiped the above image of two Sanwa gates from the Shoryuken forums to use as a reference… because I am not sure it will make sense entirely without seeing them.  Essentially joysticks that came from the west and those that came from Japan evolved differently during the arcade boom.  While our 8 way joysticks got a distinct 8 point restrictor plate with a tactile divot for the shaft of the stick to bump into denoting which direction it was currently facing…  the Japanese sticks simply took what was previously a 4 way diamond shaped restrictor and rotated it to create what would eventually serve as their 8 way square restrictor.  Almost all of the mass produced Fight Sticks on the market come with a square gate, as the hotbed of fight stick production is still Japan.  However these feel really awkward for those of us who grew up with the octagonal gate design and the very first thing I did to my stick was pop open the back and change these out.

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After having done that…  and seeing how easy it was to swap parts out…  it has made me daydreaming on Focus Attack about other modifications I could make to tweak it…  and then being sad at how much additional cash it would ultimately wind up adding to the price of the stick.  This is how you take a $55 stick and turn it into something closer to $200 if you are not careful.  There is however one mod that I do plan on making soon.  One of the features that Focus Attack has is the ability to download a template for any of the common fight sticks and have them print a high quality laser cut artwork overlay to place under the clear Plexiglas cover that most of these sticks have.  So I took all of the awesome Ammo artwork that I have in the masthead of this blog and arranged them around the template.  Now the question is… do I order this or do I go ahead and swap the buttons and joystick while I am having to crack open and pull it apart anyway.  I feel like I have traveled down a very slippery path.

 

War of the Spark Pre-order Packs

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Today is a weird day as far as days go.  I took the day off in order to go see Avengers Endgame as an 11 am matinee in a hope of avoiding the majority of the crowds.  Past that I got up and around like a normal day but because of the lack of pressure it is meaning that I am doing everything a little big slower than normal since I am not actually required to get out the door and on my way to work by 7 am…   aka the time I am actually starting this blog today.  Yesterday was the beginning of War of the Spark on Magic the Gathering Arena and with that I finally got to open my 50 pre-order packs.  If you are playing Magic the Gathering Arena you too can also get three free packs by entering the new “PlayWarSpark” code.  On a whim I decided to stream opening the packs last night and I am super thankful to a bunch of people who tuned in to watch and comment on my pulls.  I love opening packs, and honestly so far I am really liking what I am seeing of this set.  If you are curious you can check out the full opening over on my YouTube channel or through the Twitch VOD.  Be warned however with the VOD there is a bunch of faffing about with sound levels early on that I cut out of the eventual upload to YouTube.  If you are simply curious about what I pulled I exported the list to Google Sheets including everything I currently have from War of the Spark including the 50 pre-order packs and the 3 free packs that you get from the “PlayWarSpark” code.

This morning I am going to talk about a few of my favorite cards so far from the expansion.  Please not that I have deep ties to green and black and as a result am mostly going to be talking about the cards that I know I will be playing.  I can already tell that I will be building an amass zombies deck sooner or later.

Leyline Prowler

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What is not to love about this card.  It is a 2/3 for 1BG with Deathtouch, Lifelink AND is a Bird of Paradise.  It allows you to be offensive with it when you need to…  but if for some reason you can’t be…  you can tap it for mana.  It is a weird card but man do I love it.  I think mostly I just love it because it is a standard legal bird of paradise that happens to be in my favorite Golgari colors.  Even if you take the tap effect off of it…  2/3 with deathtouch and lifelink for 3 seems really good.

Banehound

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This is another of what seems to be a stupidly good common card….  its a one drop black 1/1 with lifelink and haste.  Sure this probably does not matter at all if you are not getting this on turn one…  but still it seems like something worth playing and probably godly in sealed.  It is going to add a lot of turn one pressure I think.

Duskmantle Operative

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Another one of the really good commons I think is Duskmantle Operative.  You get a 2/2 for 2 that cannot be blocked by creatures with power 4 or greater…  which probably won’t come into play when you are actually dropping this on the board but later in the game it might be useful.  Definitely playable in sealed, potentially less so in constructed…  but I still like the card.

Eternal Taskmaster

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So the initial problem with Eternal Taskmaster is the fact that it enters the battlefield tapped, meaning you are going to get this a turn later than you probably want it.  However still a 2/3 for 2 seems pretty okay…  but why you would really play this is for its effect.  When it attacks you can play 2B and if you do so return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand.  What I like about this… is it is triggered on attack…  not dealing damage meaning just turning this card horizontal is going to allow you to bring back a creature regardless if your plan actually works.  I view it as a capable early game creature with an optional resurrection card built into the text.

Arboreal Grazer

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Another card that seems just stupidly good is Arboreal Grazer.  Firstly this is a one drop that gives you a 0/3 with reach…   so basically you are just going to use this as anti-air defense.  If it was just that I would probably play it…  but it also allows you to put a land card from your hand into play tapped, adding some mana ramp.  In a Standard format that already has Llanowar elves…  this might not be a first round choice depending on your draw but it would definitely be an alternative slightly slower mana fixing option.

Living Twister

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Now this card sorta falls in the stupid party trick category…  but it might be fun to build a land dredge deck around it.  Living Twister is a decent creature for RRG at 2/5 but then has the ability to plink any target for 2 by discarding a card and spending 1R.  Additionally you can pay G to return a tapped land you control to owners hand… giving you potential fodder for the first ability.  It has a lot of weird use cases, but I still think if you are running this you will want to build a deck around setting up a condition where you can keep pulling lands out of the graveyard and throwing them at your opponent for 2.

Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord

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I’m only calling this one out because at some point I will be building a Castlevania deck full of white/black vampires with Sorin as the focal point.  Vampires are already good but if you can dredge up a creature from your graveyard and turn it into a vampire along with the other types that seems interesting… and worthy of building a weird deck around that mechanic…  and then using the various Ixalan block cards that buff vampires to make it stupid.  I’m not entirely certain what I will be doing with it but it should be fun…  also Sorin is absolutely Alucard.

That was mostly just a first pass and some of the cards that I will probably be playing around with.  Again if you want to see everything that got opened I am embedding the youtube video.  So far I think War of the Spark looks like a fun set.  I might do some sealed later and see what it feels like in a more limited environment.  My big takeaway is that I think aggro decks are going to get a lot of fuel for early game with cheap powerful creatures.

Marvel Future Fight Thoughts

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Lately I have been feeling fairly awful, which is leading me to vary my gaming patterns a bit.  The last few nights I have been heading to bed earlier, but not necessarily because I am ready for sleep…  but more because I am tired of being upright.  Additionally my wife has been drained as she is entering that end of the year rush….  and when she decides it is time to sleep I tend to follow her to the bedroom as well.  However since I am in a state of not quite ready for sleep I have been looking for activities to do on my phone.  Dragalia Lost is still great and still something I pretty much play on a nightly basis…  but since we are between events I do my five or so daily activities and then pop right back out of that game.  As such I have been looking for new things to try and recently landed upon Marvel Future Fight, in part because I have been nostalgic about Marvel Heroes the Diablo-esc action rpg that was cancelled a few years back.  In a post about Marvel Heroes someone mentioned that Future Fight was probably the closest thing that was currently available…  which peaked my interests.  Future Fight is not exactly new however as it is currently celebrating its 4 year anniversary with an event based on Avengers Endgame.

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Effectively it is an Action RPG where you build a team of characters to bring into the content…  but only actually control one of them at a time.  Each champion of sorts has a basic attack and a range of abilities that can all be powered up.  I am weirdly playing Morgan Le Fay in part because I had read she was one of the easier characters to get through the main story with…  and seeing as how my mobile skills are still not amazing I figured I needed all the help I could get.  At various points over the last couple of days I have been given free unlocks…  and have wound up building a team that consists of Morgan as my main and Sharon Rogers and Shuri as my alternates.  Ultimately everything appears to be gated based on where you are in the story, and as you progress through you unlock new options…  which in truth seems to be a common design for mobile games in general.  To some extent Dragalia Lost does some of this with various things unlocking as you reach different chapters in the primary story.  The missions thusfar involve running through a few small areas, encountering a boss… and then getting some story afterwards and usually unlocking whatever character you just fought as something that becomes playable.

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So far in my experience the character unlocks appear to be plentiful, however the vast majority are all “one star”, which means that they are really not that usable until you start pouring resources into them.  I’ve played two nights… and already have an arsenal of 15 characters that have been unlocked and are playable.  Among that mix is 4 6 stars, 4 5 stars, 2 3 stars and 5 1 stars…  and I am not entirely certain if this is always the case or if the escalation of six stars is somehow due to the fact that there is an Avengers Endgame themed event happening right now.  As is almost always the case I am probably going to stick with the same core team before I start messing with other characters.  As you work through the main story you are effectively ranking up Captain America, Ironman and Black Widow…  that begin as 1 star champions but now that I am halfway through chapter three of the story are up to 5 stars.  I am somewhat assuming that before long they will be 6 star champions giving you three freebies in the process.

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The only real negative is that Future Fight is what I would refer to as a “very free to play game”.  What I mean by that is you are constantly having “special offers” thrown at you, and this game seems to go one step further than most.  When you cancel out of one of the offers you are occasionally greeted with a message that states you will not be able to get this offer once you close the window.  In the case of my screenshot above it is simply advertising something that already exists in the store…  but those “limited” offers are there to try and invoke FOMO or Fear of Missing Out.  If you are susceptible to this sort of twisting of your arm…  then it might not be a game you want to try.  In all truth there is a past version of me that would have been turned off massively by it…  but now I am mostly apathetic about it and just accept it as part of the price that comes with playing games on your phone.  They all seem to do something like this in one form or another… with the only real exceptions being the ones that are released by Nintendo and their advisement to not abuse the users.  In the end… Future Fight is a fun time waster and fills the bill of laying in bed and messing around on my phone.

Mortal Kombat 11 – Early Thoughts

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Yesterday Mortal Kombat 11 released and I spent some time last night playing it.  Warning there will likely be spoiler information included in this post, but seeing as I have not gotten terribly deep into the game it won’t be very complete.  One thing you need to understand about my psyche is that I was a fighting game arcade rat.  During my High School years the world was having its renaissance of fighting games that began with the release of Street Fighter 2 and continued through until the franchises evolved into 3D and the arcade construct as a whole eventually petered out after my college years.  That time however was one of mystery filled with random messages scrawled on the proto-internet message boards like those of CompuServe and AOL and a heaping dose of misinformation.  I still remember the day my local arcade… and by local I mean one thirty minutes away from my house…  got one of the beta boards for Mortal Kombat II.  It had a limited set of characters and only a handful of fatalities introduced in the game…  but we hungrily devoured what content it did have trading home made guides with each other to try and level the playing field.

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From the very beginning I found myself drawn to the lore of this world and its weird inhabitants.  Mortal Kombat 1 was a fairly dry game that was more or less a straight rip off of Enter the Dragon.  With the second installment in the franchise they expanded this lore to include the Outland a realm which the Earth Realm was in a constant struggle for domination.  Only through the rules of the tournament were we the players able to keep this other realm at bay and from invading our own.  Then with the third installment of the game…  we learn that unlike the first tournament…  we didn’t actually win.  This was crazy for me to wrap my head around at the time…  because here was a game that was telling a narrative through a fighting game that had both an official canon that was different from that of the player “heroes journey”.  It was always trying to do something really unique and cinematic with its storytelling that other fighting games at the time were not, and I appreciated that.  However as my personal tastes changed I found myself exiting the Fighting Game genre and moving on with my life… eventually getting engrossed in MMORPGs.  There was something however about what I had been seeing surrounding Mortal Kombat 11 that made me want to pick the game back up and see what the story mode was like.

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Time has passed and a new generation of characters is effectively taking the place of some of the names I recognized.  The long canon relationship between Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade apparently bore fruit in the form of a daughter named Cassie.  Similarly we are introduced to the daughter of Jackson Briggs (Jax) named Jaqui who happens to serve in the same defense force unit as Cassie under the command of Sonya.  The opening scenes of the game revolve around the family connection and how in order to get her promotion to Commander…  Cassie has to defeat Sonya in combat.  Then bam…  we are immediately and seamlessly transitioning into the fighting game with no real pause…  the camera rotates and the familiar 2Dish playing field is presented with the combat bars overhead.  The game controls pretty much like I would expect a Mortal Kombat game to control and before long I was able to pick up some of the basic muscle memory of how to do this thing.  Cassie more or less controls like Johnny Cage…  with some tweaks here or there that make it more an amalgam of both Cage and Sonya’s move set.

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What I found most odd about this whole experience is how once you get started you are largely on rails and working your way through a story sequence without any pauses.  Eventually I needed to go do something else for the night…  and it was awkward to find a natural place to break off  the game.  I am guessing the story sequences will pick up where I left off as I get pushed into the next fight.  I made it through the opening sequence which involved a strike on Kitana’s Castle in the outland…  where both her and Liu Kang have apparently been corrupted by Shinnok…  a perennial baddie in the series since Sub Zero Mythologies and natural foil to our own protective Elder God Raiden.  I feel like there is a ton of story here that I have missed over the years… and while I own Mortal Kombat X because I got it as part of another package I never really cracked it open and played it to see how its story worked out.  In theory this first mission was to stave off an invasion of Earth from the Outland…  but not everything goes entirely as planned.

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Raiden is not the person we knew, because he too seemingly is being corrupted by the influence of Shinnok.  You can see he is wearing Shinnok’s amulet around his neck…  but his eyes and lightning attacks now glow red as opposed to the usual blue.  That’s right…  Raiden has fallen to the dark side and is now a Sith…  or something like that.  He still seems to be dead set on protecting the Earth Realm…  but is way more harsh than the Raiden I remember.  The team escapes from Outland back to Earth only to have another player peek her head onto the stage.  We are introduced to Kronika the Keeper of Time who is tired of Raiden’s corruption of the timeline and probably pissed at him beheading Shinnok her apparent child.  So some timey wimey stuff happens and suddenly we have a mix of timelines where characters from Mortal Kombat 1, 2, 3, and other games that I don’t recognize get blended together into one amalgam timeline that allows quite simply for us to play all the things in a single game without having to care much about why.  Most time travel storylines are complete nonsense and bullshit… and I sorta expect this one to end up that way in the end.  However for the moment I am engaged…  but cannot play for long because my muscle memory for a fighting game ain’t exactly what it used to be… and my hand got to hurting after a handful of fights.

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Other random observations…  I never liked Johnny Cage.  He always annoyed me as the consummate incarnation of a dudebro and the rich kid bully “Blaine” character from every 80s teen movie.  You take his same actions and place it in a female character and it is insanely way the hell more tolerable…  so I kinda like Cassie Cage so far.  Jaqui seems an awful lot like her father Jax…  so there is a weird mirror of some of the same dynamics I remember between Jax and Sonya before.  So you get this whole feeling of getting the band back together…  but the band performers are the children of the previous generation.  Based on this game and what footage I have seen of the Injustice series…  NetherRealm Studios seems to have perfected the art of telling a story through a fighting game.  I look forward to making it through the story mode, but I am honestly doubtful that I will ever play this in any sort of a mode that allows the game to go online with other players.  My days of slapping a quarter on the monitor to reserve the next game are well past me…  and I doubt I would come anywhere close to enjoying playing random strangers on the internet.  I do however appreciate a good story told through a vehicle that I enjoy playing…  so this might cause me to go on a renaissance of playing other NetherRealm fighting games to experience more of it.

All in all… I am digging it heavily.  The game is getting panned hard by critics due to the inclusion of micro-transactions but I have not gotten anywhere near enough into the game to be able to judge that.  They are claiming that the game gains currency to unlock things from the “Krypt” very slowly…  but I also remember sitting in our RV at the lake grinding the same tower over and over to unlock randomized coins in Mortal Kombat Deception on the PS2…  which incidentally is probably the last MK game I heavily played.  The coins did not come quickly and it find super grindy to get unlocks…  so I am guessing this game is going to feel very similar.  Those are vehicles for folks to invest more time in the game…  not necessarily for casual players like myself.  There is a really cool customization system that lets you swap out appearances and abilities on various characters which seems like it might be a cool idea…  so that your sub zero might perform slightly different to that of your friends adding a bit of the whole MOBA character design into the mix.  I cannot however gauge how that will work out in the end, because I am just a tiny bit into the game right now.

Jedi Train Heist

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Playing World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV spoil you as a player.  What I mean by that is these are both games with rabid fan armies that keep a slew of websites updated with the freshest information.  Playing any of the other MMORPGs means you are going to be sifting through a minefield of abandoned websites and slightly incorrect information.  Hell even my own website adds to this confusion with my Planet and Bonus Series Level Ranges list…  that was created in 2012 as a way of trying to organize when you should be doing the bonus series and intermingling them with the leveling worlds.  For me… I have just been trying to find an accurate list of what order I should be doing the content story wise…  which causes me to stumble across wiki pages that seemingly have not been updated since 2014.  This was the core problem I also had when playing Rift was trying to sift through all of the debris to find a path forward into actually learning about the game.  Official forums are generally the correct answer but even they end up as a stratified mess of older posts when you dig below anything currently available at a surface level and start doing specific searches.

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Last night I worked my way up to and through the Crisis on Umbara Flashpoint, and can I just say how happy I am for the existence of solo mode Flashpoints.  This gives them a way to expose story content in dungeons without ultimately gating story behind a wall that requires a group to see it.  Final Fantasy XIV also loves to put main story quest content in dungeons and primals…  but ultimately causes you to have a gear check wall to see the next batch of it.  SWTOR on the other hand has been expanded out horizontally for awhile, giving you new content without really bumping up the level or gear requirements.  I have a feeling that I am probably wearing the last gear I need currently that I got through Command Crates, which allows me to just sit there and focus on playing through the content rather than trying to gear up.  I realize that statement I just made is something that the raider me would have balked at…  but as a super casual in this game I love the fact that it is an option.  One of the quests leading up to the flashpoint did cause a really interesting bug to occur allowing me to take the above screenshot.

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That is one word of warning that I have to give is that the game seems to be often times in a fairly buggy state.  I’ve noticed having to be very careful with my companion… especially with the sniper variants because they love to park their asses right out of healing range which means I have to keep dragging mobs back to them.  As such I GREATLY prefer the force user healer options because they will wade into combat with me, but when I am running with a “turret healer” I have to refrain from using my leap into combat.  Another thing that I did not remember is that apparently aggro does not reset in instances?  There are wide areas during the instance that just required me to wade back through a bunch of stuff  that I have already been through…  so I decided to mount up and make a run for it.  However this wound up with me getting everything pulled on top of me and summarily dying as soon as my healer dropped.  It was less than a stellar performance but funny enough when I respawned I did so in a way that allowed me to completely skip all of that trash in the first place…  rewarding me for my bad behavior.

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So far the game has given me a train heist…  which is always going to be cool when it happens.  One of my all time favorite missions in The Secret World is Last Train to Cairo which also… was effectively a train heist of sorts.  This really is a bad ass construct and I am surprised that more games don’t use it.  If I had to guess the train I am on is probably stationary and the scenery keeps being spawned in and moving past me, but I have no clue how they actually pulled this off technically.  Whatever the case they make for really cool feeling missions when you get one of them.  The story still remains to be very interesting and there was a bit of a major mic drop spoiler moment in this…  that unfortunately I had spoiled for me ages ago when I watched the wrong trailer.  I will not however spoil that moment here because if I did not know it was coming… it would have been surprising.  I have my theories as to what it actually means however, because I figure it isn’t just as simple as face value.  Playing this game is making me want to commission Ammo to draw my Jedi Guardian…  in the gear that I fastidiously searched the auction house shortly after release to get.  This will always be his default outfit in spite of all of the other awesome outfits I have for him to run around in.

 

Eternal Alliance

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The extended holiday weekend for me was largely about playing Star Wars the Old Republic and working on the Knights of the Eternal Throne content.  As I talked a little bit about last week…  I got caught up in the Star Wars spirit which lead me to return to the Star Wars game I keep visiting periodically.  Thankfully the easing in period was pretty short and my muscle memory returned pretty quickly for hitting the right combat abilities at the right time.  I would have been completely screwed if my hotbars had somehow gotten reset between times playing the game however.  It makes me realize how much of game play for me is sort of fuzzing my mind out and letting my fingers do the actions on their own.  I think that is in part why I keep setting up various games in the same manner so I just don’t have to think about the controls and can instead focus in on enjoying the story and world.

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One of the things that I am amazed by is just how compelling this game is when it releases new content.  While the early expansions Rise of the Hutt Cartel, Galactic Starfighter and Galactic Strongholds are a bit of a snooze fest…  starting with Shadow of Revan and going forward the game reaches a level that rivals the original main class stories.  There is however a necessary shift from class specific stories to being a more general story that has little nuggets of information embedded for specific classes but not necessarily an entire unique arc.  The logistics of maintaining class specific story arcs is just not viable given the less than solvent state that SWTOR has been in at various times in its history.  Knowing that rocky history however makes me appreciate all the more the content that was accomplished against this adversity.

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When I last played SWTOR Fallen Empire had wrapped up and Knights of the Eternal Throne was just about to begin.  I am very thankful that they have a 2 month pass non-reoccurring option because in general this is about how long it takes for me to get the game back out of my system.  I am a content locust and I swarm back into a game after a large volume of content has been released and then fly away while it regenerates a batch of content for me to visit again.  This time I had the entirety of the Eternal Throne campaign as well as a bunch of side content that takes place after those events.  Which should keep me busy for the better part of this sixty day pass.  Again I would never suggest playing SWTOR without subscribing because the free to play experience is highly frustrating to me because it locks away a number of features that I consider crucial.

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The thing that I like the most about both Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne is how cinematic the content feels.  It is weirdly disconnected from the rest of the game which in itself is a little weird to get used to, but once you have accepted that fact it is really great to experience.  At any point you can pick back up the story by simply hitting the play button in the upper right hand corner of the screen at which point you are teleported into the last step that you left off at.  The only real negative with this approach is that I found it extremely hard to stop playing until I had finished a specific chapter of the content.  I wanted to see how each step would eventually resolve, and along the way there were a few things that probably served to be controversial to long time players…  but made your decisions feel like they had significantly more gravity.

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Now however I find myself in the extremely weird position of having defeated this beat the content and reclaimed the Eternal Throne for all that is right and good in the galaxy.  Then immediately afterwards as I started the next batch of content…  found myself as a Light Side Jedi Guardian…  willfully choosing to align with the Sith against the Republic.  There are distinct story reasons why I did this…  but man does it feel really weird to have made that decision.  I am largely hoping that this just has consequences related to the current batch of content and that I did not actually join the Sith Empire permanently.  Maybe the content that I just went through made me way more grey than I expected, or maybe I ultimately made the right choice given the sequence of events that played out leading me to this decision.  Whatever the case I am embracing it for the time being and playing across faction, which in itself is pretty interesting that they went there as an option.  I am no longer a Jedi Guardian… but instead the Commander of the Eternal Alliance… and have to make the choices that I feel best for the galaxy as a whole.

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I am having a blast visiting all of this content, and it makes me realize that now that I have one of every single class… I could in theory do it over and over again if I so got the gumption.  The Jedi Guardian however will always be the character that represents me, and I like a lot of the directions his story has gone in as a uniter of allies rather than a dogmatic practitioner of an ancient order.  One of the things about Bioware and Star Wars that I loved… is there was always a bit of nuance to a lot of the experience.  They after all gave us Jolee Bindo one of my all time favorite Star Wars characters, and now that Kathleen Kennedy has announced that they are working on Old Republic content…  it is my hope that some parts of this universe can make it into the greater Star Wars story.  For me…  Revan and Bastila Shan is just as crucial and fundamental to the Star Wars experience as is Darth Vader or Boba Fett.  I grew up without placing barriers between what was officially Star Wars lore and the stuff that was excluded…  and now that I have Grand Admiral Thrawn another favorite character of mine I am hoping they swoop in and gobble up all of the Bioware goodness.

Replaying this game has left me with weirdly mixed feelings about Anthem.  Seeing Bioware at its story driven greatness is one thing…  but also realizing that this same studio Bioware Austin is largely responsible for reviving anthem gives me hope.  It also makes me chagrin for what might have been had they given that game enough time to properly cook.  That however seems to be the story of every game that doesn’t quite land solidly on its feet… is that it needed a bit more time to coalesce into its final product.