C is for Captain

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

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

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

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

Not-Hoth

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

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

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

Turning the Corner

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

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

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

Third Party Screenshot Tools

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Last night was the night we go out and do things in Final Fantasy XIV, but for a period of time before and after the events I got in some Mass Effect Andromeda.  There are still aspects of the game that I really do love, and aspects that I am really struggling to cope with.  I am trying really hard to come up with a headcanon that the 600 year cryo sleep has given pretty much everyone partial facial paralysis… because wow… just wow.  It is fine more or less when dealing with the normal ins and outs of missions… but when you take a romantic option you tread on some seriously painful uncanny valley territory.  I am hoping we get later patches that adjust this, because it is mostly a distraction from what is otherwise a pretty solid game.  I am having some weirdness with Ryder as well because I keep forgetting he isn’t Shepard.  I mean I am playing a Mass Effect game and dealing with weird elder god robotic space magic stuff…  and I am trying to approach the game as though I were my version of Shepard and it isn’t quite working out that way.  Maybe over time I will stop doing this, but for now Ryder is very much “Not-Shepard” for me and doesn’t have much of an identity of his own.  I get what they are trying to do with this game, but so far it feels like a pair of jeans that doesn’t quite fit right anymore but you are still trying to wear them.  There is so much love and nostalgia for those “jeans”, but its a struggle to keep them pulled up and keep from mooning everyone.

Now the weirdest thing about this game so far is that no one seems to be able to find the screenshot key?  I did some research last night and folks seemed to indicate it was F11…  however that did not actually work for me.  A second search this morning indicates that no… the game does not actually have a built in screenshot functionality and is relying on you to use some sort of a third party solution.  I have personally used FRAPS for the better part of a decade, and especially when I started doing the daily blogging thing I needed the ability to have a predictable place where all of my screenshots would be.  I’ve talked about this before but all of my screenshots get dumped into a single directory on each machine that I play games on… and then I pull those screenshots off onto network attached storage to sort into a Genre>Game directory structure for long term storage.  Basically when I write my morning posts… I am still waking up and I really need to make things as easy on myself as humanly possible.  Trying to remember what the hell the screenshot directory for this or that game is at 5:30 in the morning is not something I excel at.  Knowing that any recent shots are going to be in G:\Gameshots is much much easier, and with Windows 10 showing off recently used directories… it is also almost always easily available.  FRAPS unfortunately costs money, and is outdated… and at this point is not the most amazing thing in the world…  but it is extremely reliable and seems to be willing to take screenshots of anything.  It does have the nice side effect of having a one time fee of $37… and then lifetime free updates.  It feels sort of dirty that I had to point that out as a positive… because that used to be the way all software worked.  I thought however I would cover a few other options that are “Not-FRAPS”.

GeForce Experience

This is probably the secondary go to for me, and with the introduction of Ansel technology I am contemplating making the switch myself.  If you have a somewhat modern video card, it is almost certain to support ShadowPlay (gtx 650 or higher).  GeForce Experience is the weird software that exposes this functionality, and also gives you some performance tweaking options.  If you just want the ability to play games without having to fiddle with settings, you can launch the game once and then have Experience optimize the settings.  In all cases the game will be playable…  but I have found the software pretty conservative on quality settings especially if you are running in a generationally mismatched environment of an older CPU and newer Video Card.  However for the sake of screenshots you can toggle on share options, which gives you access to set screenshot functionality.  The reason why I am not already using this however is that there is no functionality for remapping your screenshot hotkey.

GeForce Experience Website

AMD Gaming Evolved

If you are on the Red team side of the house they have the AMD Gaming Evolved app… which you need to understand is just Raptr.  At some point they either bought them or struck a deal with them… but installing the AMD tool is functionally installing a beefed up version of the Raptr gaming social media thing.  It however offers screen shot functionality, but having not used this in years I cannot comment on how functional it is.

Raptr AMD Gaming Evolved Website

MSI Afterburner

Afterburner is a piece of software that has been around since the early days of PC Video Cards.  In fact it was originally called RIVATuner if I am remembering correctly, that specifically relates to the Riva series of Nvidia cards from the late 90s.  This is the go to software for overclocking, but it also has a bunch of packed in functionality…  one of which is the ability to snap screenshots and record video clips.  It is fairly light weight and just runs quietly in the background allowing you to take screenshots at will.  My only suggestion here is to make sure you don’t fiddle with any of the settings that you are not comfortable with.  You can absolutely crash your machine if you start playing with the sliders.  The fact that it is “MSI” branded really should not throw you off, because they simply maintain the software these days and it still works for every brand of video card.

MSI Afterburner Website

Windows 10 Game DVR

Included as part of the Windows 10 installation is the Xbox app, which among other things exposes something called the Game DVR.  This does some things that are good and some things that are not so good.  The not so good is that it will start recording gameplay footage, in a rolling loop of the last X minutes which is configurable.  The idea being that it gives you easy access to snag clips of gameplay footage AFTER it happens.  This also means that your system will be effectively recording video all of the time, and a certain bit of diskspace will simply just be lost to this process.  The positive is that it allows you to also set up a screenshot keybind without installing any additional software.  I’ve noticed a decent performance hit while this option is turned on, so this is largely why I do not personally choose to use it.  It is however there so I thought I would cover it as an option.

Windows 10 Game DVR Adjustment Settings

Forge.gg

In a similar “gaming DVR” camp is Forge which should be mentioned.  This is software that essentially allows you to broadcast your gameplay and after a session trim clips from it to save to the Forge website.  One of the options is to take still frames from this DVR footage, which also seemed a bit more contorted than I really wanted it to be for just taking screenshots.  However there are a ton of people that love the software, and the ability to stream without needing to do much of anything special.  I am throwing it out there because it technically can take decent screenshots, but it functions so vastly differently than what I want a screenshot software to function like.

Forge.gg Website

These are just a few options that I can think off off the top of my head at 6 in the morning.  There are countless other pieces of software that do some version of this functionality.  I continue to use FRAPs largely because it works like  want it to work, and doesn’t seem to consume much in the way of system resources.  It is also extremely reliably…  several other options I have tried in the past like DxTory or Greenshot have both created situations where I thought I was taking a screenshot… and ended up with either nothing, black screens, or pictures of my desktop icons.  While I absolutely can talk at length about the virtues of using some form of third party screenshot software… and having a filing system for said screenshots…  I can’t really push one piece of software over another.  You are ultimately going to need to try a bunch of them and find the one that seems to work with your gaming style.  Any of the ones I mentioned save for maybe Forge is going to probably function exactly how you want.

 

 

 

 

 

Going to Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend Adventures

arenabooktryptich

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Today marks the first day back from a bit of a vacation.  As a result I must apologize for failing completely to write anything Friday.  I had every intent of making it an upside down day where I blog in the evening, however after getting home Friday night that just sort of evaporated.  I am leading the post off with a Mass Effect Andromeda screenshot, but I admit this is a little bit of bait and switch given that I am probably not going to be writing about that game at all until tomorrow morning.  Instead this morning I am going to talk about my adventures.  For the wife it has been spring break, and generally speaking we attempt to do something during that time.  When we traveled through Dallas on the way home from Pax South in January, we realized it had been a significant amount of time since we just went to the Metro for the sake of going there.  Another thing you need to know about us, is that we are die hard Half Priced Books fans… and for those not indoctrinated into that chain of book stores please click through this link and join the cult.  To call it a used book store is a bit of a disservice to just how many cool things they tend to have and how many genres they cross.  The only problem is there are none in the Tulsa metro area, however we regularly make a trip down the turnpike to Oklahoma City and hit the three that are located there.  Additionally any time we travel we see if there are any in the nearby area that we can either hit on the way there or on the way home.  As a result we have explored many in the Kansas City, St Louis, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Madison areas, and a few singlets we have found along the way.

Similarly I also love Micro Center and Fry’s Electronics… but we have neither of those chains.  I make an attempt to hit them any time I am in the vicinity, so combing those two goals we had this idea of trying to hit as many stores as we could.  What we did not figure in is just how damned big the Metro is, and how much time we would lose simply in travelling.  Additionally we threw in a trip to IKEA which is always a must, and Container Store…  as well as a slew of Target and Walmart stores to hunt for interesting clearance.  The end result is that over the course of what was functionally a day and a half in the Metro we hit I believe 10 Half Priced Book Stores, 2 Fry’s, the single solitary Micro center, IKEA and one of the several Container Stores.  The last we largely manages to catch because there happened to be one across the street from the In and Out burger we stopped at for lunch on Friday.  As far as eating establishments, we managed to hit Fuzzy’s Tacos for lunch on Thursday and an apparent local chain called Snuffers for dinner that night as well as the previously mentioned In and Out.  As far as wandering… my wife and I are extremely “drift compatible” when it comes to exploring new areas.  The only problem is… we did not even touch the Forth Worth area stores because we did not always take the most optimum routes.  That is one thing I really want… the ability to throw a bunch of points on a map and have google plot the most optimal course to hit all of them.  We also did not exactly stay in the most optimal location either… with me picking a random hotel in Richardson with quite possibly the most uncomfortable beds I have ever slept in.  All in all however it was fun trip, and as is always the case I took some photos of things that I found interesting…  which is more than likely going to be the bulk of the rest of this post.

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At one of the HPB stores, I found a copy of Magic the Gathering Arena… which in itself was not that big of a deal.  However what was interesting is that in the back of the book nobody had detached and sent in the coupon for the free card.  I’ve mangled a triptych of images here so you can see the book cover, the coupon as well as the card that you would have gotten had you turned in it.  I believe I have this card laying around somewhere, because while the book was pretty crummy…  at the time I was absolutely after any card I could get my hands on.

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Another interesting find is some Blizzard Noobz figures circa Blizzcon 2009.  They had the Murloc, Undead, and Ragnaros but sadly had none of the Jim Raynor which is probably the coolest of the set.  I ended up picking up the Ragnaros because I always liked that one as well.  I was just sort of shocked to see them still in the wild… and even more so that they had been marked down to $5.

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In the straight up odd department, at IKEA I found this interesting “hanging dryer” as the sign said.  Some googling tells me that this is extremely popular with the “cloth diaper” community.  Whatever the case… it is an adorable octopoid hanger and was worth taking a photo of.

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Finally in the just straight up weird category… one of the various stores I hit had a Daryl Dixon Funko Pop… that was literally the size of someones head.  I was trying to figure out what I could hold up for scale… and wound up using my hand but that may or may not be useful given that my hands are also huge.  You can however see a normal pop box on the shelf below for a potentially better reference.

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In the realm of “Bel has lost his damned mind” another happening over the extended four day weekend… is that I decided to shave back down to a mustache/goatee combo.  I just felt like I needed a change for awhile after doing a perfect impression of Hagrid for the better part of the last few years.   This photo was snapped while recording AggroChat because my co-hosts could not believe that I actually did it, so that is why you get garbage lighting conditions and a microphone in my face.

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Finally we wrapped the weekend with officially opening our back yard for the spring.  This means that my wife and I spent most of Saturday afternoon collecting leaves, spraying for weeds…  and applying a copious amount of fungicide to our very tree-like red tipped photinias.  The best part of this is of course that our patio just off the bedroom is now open for business, and my wife spent most of Sunday out there grading in the shade of our balcony.  Tonight I need to drag all ten bags of assorted yard debris around to the curb so that the trash service can pick them up on Tuesday.  The way our town works, is that we have to use these rather expensive bags that have the city name printed all over them, which in turn get filtered off into a green waste system.  The alternative was to buy a second trash bin, but that also limits you to only having a fixed amount each week.  This way we can clean the yard whenever we get the desire to do so and simply pay for bags.  Whatever the case the yard is open once more… and I’ve already gotten several birds coming to check out the feeder.  Yesterday we had a couple of gorgeous cardinals and a pair of blue jays, and it seems like the nesting pairs of turtles doves are back as well.  Now I just need to find me a switch so I can hang out on the back patio and play in style.

Failed Intentions

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

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

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

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

Evil Forces

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This morning I am using a screenshot completely unrelated to anything that I am going to talk about just because I thought it looked cool.  Last night was that night we dread all year long…  the night we attempt to deal with Taxes.  Tax Season is sort of the boogie man for adults, with the IRS being the grim harbingers of our impending doom.  The truth is we have never really run into major issues with Taxes, and in spite of this…  I still get almost physically ill when I think about dealing with them.  We have our taxes done, because there is something about having the piece of mind that someone is obligated by contract to come defend you if you ever get audited…  and at least somewhat financially responsible if something bad comes up.  I realize in the internet age I should be able to deal with my own taxes rather easily… but it is just more comforting to hurl a stack of papers at someone else… flail my arms and expect them to make it all make sense.  Over the years we have gotten mildly better at getting our shit together, and have started a system that involves cramming everything that looks even vaguely tax related into a manila envelope.  For the most part this year… we were able to pull things together easy enough with only minimal last minute scramble to try and sort out the last few documents that we were missing.  The truth…  the fact that we did this pulling together act on a day other than the day we had our tax appointment… is a huge positive for us.  Traditionally right up until the very moment we are supposed to go we are flying through the house rooting through piles of paperwork looking for a golden ticket…  or in our case that receipt from some charitable giving.

The thing that always screws us over in the end, is the fact that we functionally have to pay taxes in two different states.  During the summer my wife works as an AP test grader…  which always occurs in another state and counts as income for said state.  So that means in the next few weeks we are going to have to do the whole money order/certified check thing… and get the stupid slip of paper mailed off to this other state and hope beyond hope that it gets there.  We are fine in the long run, having to pay both states as is usually the case and getting back some from federal so it works out in the end.  But I cannot explain how fundamental and deep to my very core this sense of panic is that I feel when we start discussing taxes.  I am wondering if this is just a me thing, or if literally everyone goes through this yearly hell.  Its like so rarely do you really actually have to confront a cold force that can literally ruin you… in quite the same fashion as the IRS could.  All of it seems to be buried in arcane formula, and calculations that only software actually understands… that feels like it could very well add up and say that you owe everything you have.  There are certain aspects of life that make complete and total sense to me… but the Tax code will never be one of them.  So instead we live in this state of augmented anxiety until finally we gather the courage…  or it gets late enough that we absolutely have to deal with them.

Then when they are over… there is this crashing wave of euphoria.  Like we just survived the fight of our lives and came out with most of our limbs intact.  So instead of heading home we went out to eat, to celebrate our victory.  Its like going home didn’t make sense after the epic battle we just survived.  So instead we went to one of our regular rotation of Mexican restaurants where I had a glorious feast of chicken, cheese and chorizo.  I am supremely disappointed in whoever coded the spell checker built into Windows because I am seeing a red squiggly line over chorizo… the most glorious of meats.  After dinner we wound up needing to make a quick trip to Walmart…  which for us is a once in a month occurrence because our local store is completely crazy.  After wandering around and looking for what we actually came for, we exited thirty to forty minutes later.  So by the time I fed the animals and changed into my comfy flannel pants…  I wound up getting home about an hour late for the Final Fantasy XIV raid night.  I had talked during the day about wanting to make an attempt on Diadem and they did in fact seem to be able to pull together the people for that.  Some folks even got some of the tasty 265 gear…. but not for the classes they were actually playing.  Final Fantasy XIV really needs to give us the ability to trade gear among a fixed party.  I wound up tagging in after Diadem for Thordan Extreme, of which we sort of figured out at least the first few phases of that dance.  It is going to be one of those fights where we simply have to memorize the pattern and make sure everyone makes it through each phase shift alive.  More than anything though… I am happy to have slain the tax beast at least for this one season.

Rotational Hell

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

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

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

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

Ballad of Cowboy Ninja

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

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

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

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