Opening the Patio

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While I got in a fair bit of gaming this weekend… it was far from the major mission at hand.  We had decided some weeks back that over spring break we would rehabilitate our lawn.  We had been putting this off for some time as evidenced by the mountain of yard waste that is now sitting waiting for the city to pick it up.  Our city has two options for lawn waste the first being get a red bin and then in essence pay rent on it all year round.  The other option is to go to a local QuikTrip store and buy some very pricey special bags emblazoned with the city name on them that denote that the it is going to some sort of a yard waste recycling plant.

Unfortunately I just looked up on the city website….  and it appears that yard waste collection will not resume until April 9th meaning these bags will be hanging out on the side of my house a little longer than I expected.  It was a pretty weekend however and allowed us to get things under control before the real growth seasons starts.  The funny thing about this is you can see all of the leaves that make up this mess…  were gathered in a lawn with no trees.  Our back yard seems to be the catch all for all of the houses that do have trees.

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The real mission of the weekend however was to reconstitute our back patio that opens out from our bedroom.  This is my wife’s happy place and I wanted her to at least be able to spend some of her spring break out there reading.  This was in fact something she managed to do a good chunk of Saturday given that I took Friday off in which we did most of the work.  I will admit I like hanging out here too but mostly in the evenings when we have a very long shadow hanging out and covering the patio area.  I am rather fond of hanging out and listening to the wind chimes while watching the birbs.

This year I do plan on spending a good deal of time out here either playing the Switch or 2DS XL, both of which are really solid outdoor gaming options for me.  I had originally hoped that the WiiU would have been functional for outdoor gaming but unfortunately the receiver was not strong enough to penetrate the door to the bedroom where I had it hooked up for awhile.  I am still grumpy about how lousy the range on the handheld unit is, but with the advent of the Switch it was essentially what I was hoping the WiiU was going to be.

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While it is still a little early to set out the “flower babies” we did set up a feeder for the birbs and within a day our backyard was humming with activity.    We’ve seen a nesting pair of mourning doves pictured in my hastily zoomed in phone camera shot, a pair of cardinals, a male blue jay and a myriad of smaller birds that I don’t know the names of.   We had a fungus infect our two red tipped photinias last year and while we attempted to fight it with some spray…. we lost the battle and ultimately had to take out the two dead bushes that had grown into the size of small trees.

I was afraid this lose of cover would decrease the amount of activity we saw in our back yard, but weirdly enough it seems to have actually increased the amount of time the birds are out and roaming around visibly.  The focus seems to have shifted away from hanging out in the bushes to hanging out on our back deck, which would probably a problem…  if we actually used that back deck.  It is way too far removed from the house to really be convenient and you have to cross over to the other side of the pool to even get up on it.  So as a result we tend to mostly forget it exists other than our old set of lawn furniture being up on it.

A good chunk of the weekend was spent happily watching the birbs hanging out in our yard and also watching them completely drain one of the two feeders we have this year.  I can already tell that we need to find two things this year…  firstly a proper bird bath so they have a place to get a drink or wash off.  Secondly we need some sort of a ground level vessel for water because we traditionally have bunnies in our yard quite a bit given that we are not likely to chase them off.  Nothing depresses me more than having to fish a dead animal out of the pool because they were trying to get a drink.  So my hope is to place something else to get a drink from more prominently… and I will just fill it when I am watering the flowers in the evening.  All in all though, happy to have the patio back open for business.

Meow Meow Meow Rogers

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This is going to be a really odd post but one that I sorta feel like I want to make.  I have a deep and personal bond with Mister Rogers Neighborhood that I am not entirely sure if I can put into words.  I grew up the only child of two very busy parents with no other children within easy access distance to me because we lived just far enough out of the city limits to make everything awkward.  For the most part I say I was raised by my grandmother, because she was my babysitter and playmate as a child.  The problem with that however is that she was the anchor of a very busy rural household, which meant there were larger swaths of the day where she was out doing chores.  I mean this is a woman I can regularly remember going out to chopped/split wood for the stove to keep the house warm while grandpa was out tending to the cattle.

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As a result there were large swaths of the day where I was left to my own devices, and essentially had to learn how to keep myself entertained.  I was the first person in my family to get cable television… and even then I did not get that until I moved to college so as far as programming went I was limited to the four over the air networks.  It was at an early age that I developed an affinity for PBS or the Public Broadcasting Service and regularly would sit there in the floor of my grandparents living room soaking up everything I could find while doodling and inventing nonsense.  Without a doubt the only show I never missed however was Mister Rogers Neighborhood, because it had a way of bringing me into that world.

I felt like I was friends with Mister Rogers, Handyman Negry, Mister McFeely, or Lady Aberlin…  as well as X the Owl, Henrietta the Cat or Daniel the Lion.  For thirty minutes I was sucked into this other world where not everyone looked the same as me but still managed to get along perfectly.  This was deeply important to my upbringing because I lived in what you might say was a quietly prejudiced world and thought Mister Rogers neighborhood it allowed me to build up a bit of an immunity to having any of those thoughts root deeply in my brain.  His mission to drill into our brains that we were all the same inside and that we should celebrate the interesting differences is something that served me well and that I have tried to never betray.

Then the other night after a normal day in the office, I sat down to start doing what I sorta refer to as “checking into the world”.  One of the things that crossed past my eyes was the above trailer for a new movie about the life of Fred Rogers called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and as I sat there watching it…  I started tearing up to the point of just water pouring out of my eyes.  Hell as I sit here writing this post this morning I am teary eyed as well.  It is impossible to put into word accurately how much this man meant to me… and how much the show Mister Rogers Neighborhood did.  He took what was an otherwise solitary childhood where I sat alone for hours at a time finding ways to entertain myself…   into a constant voyage of discovery as I anxiously awaited the moment when the show would be on again and we could do more interesting things together.

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I made a comment to this effect the other night on Twitter and my friend Gryph commented that there was a Mister Rogers Neighborhood marathon going on over on Twitch.  This was a night when my wife had gone to Dallas and I was ultimately waiting up for her to get home safely before going to bed.  So from about 10:30 until around midnight I sat there watching old episodes of the show reliving moments from my childhood.  By the time my wife got home I had to explain why my eyes were so teary because there were so many moments that just hit me in the gut.  Example the above image is from when Lady Aberlin forgot to come pick up Daniel Lion for a party, and he thought she didn’t love him anymore.

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These were important lessons to talk about with kids, and to help them work through complex feelings of frustration and abandonment…  giving us ammunition for dealing with those things when we experienced them later in life.  I am far from normal, but I feel like I am a better person because of the lessons we learned every day after school from Mister Rogers and the crew.  The role Betty Aberlin played has to be highlighted and appreciated because she had this way of treating those puppets as though they were the most real people in the world with their own complex needs.  Without her and her presence in the land of Make Believe it would have been harder to get sucked into the world because of the way she carried the interactions with the puppeteers.

Watch live video from MisterRogers on www.twitch.tv
If you were too young to experience Mister Rogers Neighborhood… which is a realistic concern given that I am 41 almost 42 and was part of the prime viewership…  I highly suggest you check it out.  There is something magical and timeless about the experience and it has been interesting to see the outpouring of goodwill and support on twitch chat.  This is normally a community that can be offensively toxic, but instead everyone is reveling together in just how pure and good the experience is.  There was a mystical quality in the primitive nature of the show and its extremely low production budget…  but in many ways that also is what sells the experience and makes it so easy to let your imagination fill in the gaps.  Excuse me while I try and find something to dry my eyes.

 

 

Fast Boat

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One of the interesting things that has happened over the last few days is that I apparently got invited to the Battle for Azeroth expansion alpha.  I happened to notice this Tuesday night when I opened my battle.net launcher and found the World of Warcraft tab was trying to patch something.  Sure enough upon further inspection I did appear to have access to the alpha client in my version selector drop down.  I also noticed from social media that a few other people seemed to be indicating the same, so I am guessing there was a whole new wave of folks entering the testing.  The thing about alpha testing that is legitimately an alpha…  is it is as much a burden as it is a privilege.  Yes you have access to something that most people don’t and that in some ways is inherently cool…  but also it becomes your responsibility to go out into the unfinished world and help stop bugs that you will encounter.

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First off let me get this out of the way…  Battle For Azeroth Alpha is in fact an alpha in functionality and in name.  I’ve been in so many different versions of Alpha programs over the years and even in Blizzard terms occasionally those Friends and Family Alphas feel “almost finished”.  This time around BfA feels very much a work in progress and with significant functionality either missing or not entirely working.  For example I spent the beginning of my evening testing an area of the game where quest tracking was not functional at all, and I sorta had to wing it given that I could not really see what was required to finish any of the quests.  One of the more interesting things of note is that the Kul Tirran side of the house appears to have a flight path system that is in truth a series of extremely high speed boats, example is the one I am on above.

After spending some time bug noting Alliance side I rolled a Horde character and the Zandalari areas seem to be a bit more finished.  Those areas had a proper quest flow with tracking working and advisement of where I should be going for the next quest.  In truth that probably means that I should not be spending too much time in Kul Tiras until they have had a bit more time to flesh it out.  I did however report a ton of instances where things were clipping oddly, or in one case where my camera was being pushed up through a when I stood in a certain spot.  I guess that is part of the responsibility side of Alpha testing, that you need to vary your feedback based on what phase in the zone development they are in.

Sure I bug noted the fact that quest tracking was not working…  but after doing that it seemed nonsense to keep reporting it each time I turned in a quest in that area of the game.  Instead I started working on reporting the base pop and terrain anomalies, since they are likely the parts that are being worked on at that very moment.  Ultimately my goal is to spend a little bit of time each night working on testing content, because I feel like since I have eyes on the game…  I should be helping to make it better for launch.

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The gaming for fun side of the evening was spent over in Monster Hunter World which received a patch.  I did not actually defeat a Deviljho last night, but I saw several of them as they interrupted my other hunts.  It is in fact as nonsense as everyone seemed to make it out to be and I am hoping that maybe tonight I can devote some time to actually purposefully hunting one or two of them to get used to how those fights go.  The focus of my evening last night however was finally getting Thalen through Nergigante.  It has been a goal to make sure that everyone gets off high center with this fight in part because it seemed to take me so long to do that myself.  Everyone was more than willing to lend a hand in my hour of need so I feel like it is only right to keep paying that forward.

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Additionally I like the fact that I now feel pretty comfortable with this encounter and could always use more monster bits.  While waiting around for Thalen to finish up a hunt we started talking about our stats…  at which point I joked that I changed my guild card title to Pure Long Sword at some point.  I really have in fact been focused on only this one weapon for awhile as you can see by the fact I have done 253 hunts with Long Sword and the closest second is hammer with 7.  Both Tam and Ashgar have way more spread graphs when it comes to weapons, and in truth I probably should as well.  I should make a point of trying every weapon and seeing if there are hidden gems out there that I might ultimately like.  My biggest problem has been that I just didn’t want to take resources away from my current longsword crafting projects to create other weapons.

Indigo Blade Get

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Yesterday I engaged in some serious nonsense, which is not super surprising if you follow this blog in the least.  For whatever reason I got it stuck in my head that I would really like to have the Wyvern Blade “Indigo”, which is an alternate line of the poison weapon I have been using off and on for some time.  This unfortunately would involve starting over from scratch and building a new base weapon and upgrading it completely.  I had no clue what exactly that mean’t part wise so I created a little hit list adding up everything.

To craft the Wyvern Blade Indigo… and all of the precursors I would need…

  • 05 – Rathian Shell
  • 01 – Rathian Plate
  • 10 – Machalite Ore
  • 04 – Poison Sac
  • 03 – Rath Wingtalon
  • 02 – Flame Sac
  • 03 – Rathalos Marrow
  • 02 – Rathalos Shell
  • 06 – Rathalos Scale+
  • 04 – Rathalos Carapace
  • 02 – Rathalos Wing
  • 01 – Rathalos Plate
  • 14 – Azure Rathalos Scale+
  • 04 – Azure Rathalos Carapace
  • 03 – Azure Rathalos Wing
  • 01 – Rathalos Medulla
  • 02 – Teostra Horn+
  • 03 – Azure Rathalos Tail
  • 01 – Rathalos Ruby
  • 120,000 Zenny

I spent some time yesterday streaming and originally thought I would be just clearing out optional content like I have been doing the last few days.  However rapidly that descended into madness as I started chasing the bits and pieces needed to craft the Indigo weapon.  This meant a significant amount of farming Rathalos and Azure Rathalos…  neither of which are necessarily super difficult encounters, but also not exactly quick farms either.  Because I am weird and me… I opted to mostly farm these using my method of SOS roulette and in truth this rapidly allowed me to get down to a single item needed.

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The core problem there however is that “gems” from monsters seem to drop super infrequently…  if you actually want them to drop.  I have a string of bird wyvern gems for example, but now that I actually need one it would not drop.  I am not honestly sure how many Blues I took down during the stream, but after stopping I continued the madness… and by the end of the night had probably defeated at least eight…  potentially more.  It was around about this time that Ashgar came in to alter my thought patterns.

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This theory was that it would be simply faster for me to knock out the five elder dragon kills needed to do the weekly, than continue farming Azure Rathalaos over and over forever without getting a drop.  It turns out you can take the Gold Wyverian Print that you get from the weeklies and turn it into a guaranteed gem from any monster.  So this lead to me farming Xeno’jiiva over and over until I had knocked out the five kills.  Ultimately according to Ash… Zorah Magdaros, Nergigante, Teostra, Kushala Daora, Vaal Hazak, and Xeno’jiiva all count.  The low effort versions would have been to just farm Zorah until I got my five kills but I figured I might as well work on something that had a chance of giving me useful monster parts.

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As a result before I went to bed I managed to farm up all of the bits needed to craft the weapon, and then took it on a ceremonial trip to High Rank Great Jagras to see how well it works.  The final clock said just a second or two over two minutes for the kill, but I also wandered around aimlessly collecting herbs and honey at the beginning of that fight so I am guessing I actually finished the kill a little under a minute.  All in all I am super happy with the end result in spite of the process itself being a little nonsense.  Why exactly did I do this thing?  Mostly because Kirin is weak to fire… and I will have to ultimately do Tempered Kirin to uncap my level again.

Optional Cleanup

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Last night I spent a good deal of time roaming around in Monster Hunter World cleaning up all of the things I had been ignoring.  One of the problems with this game…  if it can be called a problem at all…  is that you get so many missions that you can run.  At any given time I have 250 investigations constantly swapping themselves out for newer investigations and a seemingly endless number of optional quests opening up as you do things in the world.  So yes…  I just called too much content a problem, which is ultimately why I backpedaled that a bit because so often we complain about not having anything to do.  The game is an endless generator of things you can do.

My play style is apparently not normal, and as a result I have ended up with tons of optional quests left unfinished and I am working through them slowly.  Last night for an hour and some change I hung out with my friend Ashgar as we tackled various missions that had been sitting there waiting.  The only problem is I am not sure which quests I am missing…  because a good number of the star ranks are giving me the indicator that I have in fact finished all of the quests I have available…  but that there are more I have yet to unlock.  Ash explained that these are probably quests for which I have not actually captured the monster opening up the special arena version.

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The truth is…  Low Rank was a bit of a blur as I attempted to push forward to start doing the big kid content that I thought at the time was High Rank.  Additionally I have played like some sort of a maniac in doing my SOS Roulette thing way more often than actually soloing any optional quests.  Occasionally this finishes up missions but more often than not it is simply rerunning content I have already seen.  I tend to open up the SOS menu and pick out whatever looks to be the most interesting…  which tends to be the combo monster quests so oddly enough I have almost all of those finished.

What I am lacking in a major way however is anything that requires a capture…  or anything that requires me to take something and run it back to camp.  The delivery quests are maddening, and I just find it so frustrating to carry something slowly across the map only to get derailed by some nonsense along the way causing you to drop whatever you were transporting.  I should in fact make a set of Kulu gloves so that I can do this nonsense faster because I have a couple more sitting in my optional quest menu that at some point I will need to deal with.

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So you might ask yourself… why do I even care?  Well the true end game in any title is the cosmetics… and at the end of doing every single optional quest is quite possibly the most nonsense of cosmetic items.  Apparently in Monster Hunter there is a proud tradition of a special rainbow pigment that you can die your gear with.  Upon completing all of the optional content you get another quest that ultimately rewards this thing, and apparently while using it your gear constantly cycles slowly through all of the colors of the rainbow.  Why do I want this thing…  I honestly have no clue…  but knowing it exists makes me want to collect it.

In truth I didn’t make anywhere near as much progress as I would have liked last night.  I ran around eight missions before needing to take a break…  and I have untold more to go.  It was more entertaining to do with a friend, but most of what I have left is not exactly extremely challenging.  The hardest part with low rank content is making sure you get the capture instead of just getting the kill.  There was a point last night when I thought I was just severing the tail off a Rathian…  but at the exact same time I wound up getting the kill in.  I mean I could in fact dig out a lower rank weapon…  but I am not going to.  Hitting things for big numbers is fun, and it will at the very least be a source of enjoyment while I retread this mountain of older content.

Tempered Nonsense

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This weekend in theory was the weekend that I played catch up with Monster Hunter World.  For awhile now I have been stalled out at the final boss of the game the insanely huge elder dragon Xeno’jiiva.  First off… the fight is an annoying pain in the butt as melee.  I am not sure if this is just a longsword thing or if it is an “all melee” thing but you spend all of your time trying to avoid being stepped on while roaming around trying to hit weak spots.  Basically there are three glowing bits that seem to be weak…  the tail, the front paws, and the head.  Normally as a longsword you spend your time focused on the tail… but given this thing is about three times as tall as a normal monster it spends most of its time up in the air.

The fight as a whole is a lot of running around and avoiding breath attacks while attempting to pour damage into the front paws.  After a point this will cause the monster to fall down exposing the head for a few minutes allowing you to get off a combo.  The biggest problem I had was the monster has several things that can be a one shot if you are not careful, so my first attempt was mostly me sussing out what I should be doing and what I should not be doing.  I am one of those people who learn by doing, and I doubt that reading a guide would have helped.

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The second attempt was largely a ballet of attempting to do the right thing at the right moment.  I managed to take down the monster but only had one faint left.  Its funny how when you know there are no more faints… you shift into a sort of hyper focused mode because every move has potential success riding on it.  Ultimately I really didn’t want to fail because the fight itself is cumbersome and has several phases of tedium while you are waiting for Xeno to finishing doing its nonsense and land so you can begin attacking again.  I am sure those air phases are way more enjoyable if you have any semblance of a ranged attack…  or if you are Tam and just playing the nonsense weapon.

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Whatever the case I defeated a Xeno, and immediately shot up to 29 which was the next Hunter Rank plateau.  It turns out you are phantomly gaining levels while you are playing the game, in spite of it appearing as though you are presently capped by a quest.  I’ve talked about this before, but when you finish a game like this it always feels like you are obligated to sit and watch the credits as a sort of homage to the folks who poured all of the love into creating the game in the first place.  The credit roll was on the short side allowing me to get right back into the action and as soon as I zoned into my room and back out… I picked up the next quest that was gating me.

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The real highlight however is that I managed to pick up enough pieces from Xeno to craft the Extermination’s Edge…  ultimately what is likely to be my primary end game weapon for awhile.  The next quest involved hunting my very first tempered monster, and what did they give me as a target…  a pair of Bazelgeuse.  Until yesterday I had not ever actually killed a single Bazel… or Bagel as folks seem to call.  It always seemed like it was more hassle than it was worth, and since I had never fought one… I personally found this quest insanely difficult and failed out completely on my first attempt.  This lead me to believe that I should do some research, and wound up answering a few SOS flares for Bazel fights to learn the flow of how combat against it works.

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Before going to bed last night after finishing Walking Dead, I decided to give it one more shot.  It took me what felt like an eternity, but I managed to get both Bazel’s down and this time around I only managed to faint one time.  This fight is a mess because Bazels interact with each other much the same as you would expect Bazel to interact with any other hunt.  That means when they are dive bombing each other there are just giant fields of nope on the ground…  and I spent most of the time rolling out of the way of impending doom.

Ultimately I focused on detailing both of them which seems to cut down on the sheer number of bombs by a bit and then worked one down to skull, attempting and failing at a trap only to wind up killing it outright.  The other I tediously fought until it ran and finally managed to get a trap off finishing the nonsense.  While I still hate this encounter… in a way I get why they forced us to do it.  Fighting a Bazel as melee if nothing else teaches you that you absolutely need to call your shots and get in some strategic hits while you can…  even if the rest of your time is spent avoiding everything else.

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Now I am sitting at level 41, which I believe leaves me in an uncapped state until 49.  In truth I have no clue how leveling works now… if I just gain some experience each time I take something down, or if I need to focus on tempered monsters to make forward momentum.  Whatever the case I have lots of things to be hunting and lots of need for cash considering I went bankrupt making the armor and power talons…  then rebuying the charms after getting bazel parts.  In truth I am pretty happy with my gear as it stands…  and I simply need to pour cash into it to level it up to maximum.  I believe at some point Thalen still needs a Nergi kill, and ultimately Grace will need a slew of elder dragons as well so there is likely much monster slaying in my future.  It was a good weekend and now I feel less lazy than I was for sitting high center on Xeno as long as I did.

Toys R Us Kid

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The news about Toys R Us closing is not shocking given the rapid slide over the last month or so…  but still hits me fairly hard.  The truth is I didn’t go to the store that often anymore because quite frankly it was inconvenient.  I did however take the opportunity on a regular occasion to visit them while roaming around other towns.  I’ve been to at least one Toys R Us in San Antonio for awhile while we were down there for Pax South, but in that case it was largely because it was beside a Container Store my wife wanted to go to.  I think ultimately everyone stopped going to the store for their various reasons, and this is yet another step along the chain to the loss of brick and mortar retail as a whole.  It does however make me nostalgic about the Toys R Us from my past.

I found this image online, and decided to use it because more or less this represents the Toys R Us I remember from my childhood.  The closest location for me was roughly an hour from my home and it was a destination location for whenever I had birthday money to spend.  The reason why is that because as a kid it felt like Toys R Us had literally everything we could ever want to play with.  You would go there and see toy lines that you didn’t even know existed, and for the ones you did know about…  they usually had one of every figure in the line along with all of the accessories you had only heard about.

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As my passion for Star Wars, GI Joe and the Thundercats turned to Video Games…  Toys R Us became in a way more elevated in my mind as a destination for glory.  During the heyday of the Nintendo Entertainment System they stocked what felt like every single game available for the system.  For those who were not around during this era I found an image online representing how games were presented to us.  There would be essentially the cover of one of the games with maybe some information about it on the backside hanging on a rack with some tickets.  You would dread getting to the store and seeing an empty envelope hanging beneath the game you were looking for.  I remember a few sad trips up to the redemption booth to ask if they maybe had one more copy of whatever game I was wanting somewhere in the back.

Regardless any time I managed to save up enough money to get a new game… I was immediately pestering my parents to see when we could next make the hour long slog to Tulsa and visit Toys R Us.  I remember feeling like the Ticket Booth was a magical portal that had a copy of everything ever in existence…  rather than just the entrance to the stock room.  The core problem with the Toys R Us equation is that they made their name on being the “Biggest Toy Store There Is”.  That meant to keep the promise they needed to stock more of everything to be that go to place when someone can’t find something anywhere else.

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The problem is the “Children’s Bargain Town” slogan was mostly a lie, because as soon as I understood the concept of money… I understood that everything cost a little bit more at Toys R Us.  In my market for a good chunk of my childhood there were was a single Toys R Us location.  During the late 80s and early 90s they built a second location in what seemed to be the next up and coming area of town.  However at no point was Toys R Us the bargain option.  On the value for your money spectrum you had Walmart as the cheapest place you could buy anything followed fairly closely by K-Mart and Target being roughly the same.  From there you jumped up to the Mall offerings of Circus World and KB Toys…  and in a far distant end of the spectrum you had Toys R Us.  I remember when Nintendo was king, a game at Toys R Us cost roughly ten dollars more than a game at Walmart for example.

Since they could not compete on price, they had to compete on the sheer nonsense amount of stuff they carried…  but in the mid to late 90s that equation changed to.  They started clearing out sections of the store to hollow them out and make room for the Babies R Us Franchise.  In our store this meant that no longer did they carry products that you had never heard of…  or in most cases even the entire product line for the ones you had heard of.  Also it was around this time that the Video Game section was ejected from is prime real estate and shoved into a cubical in the far corner of the store the furthest location from the door.  Additionally they shifted away from the ticket system and started carrying far fewer items meaning that they lost their sheer selection advantage over other stores.  I remember trying Toys R Us first a few times like when Final Fantasy III (VI) came out…  but finding them completely out of stock and having to move on and ultimately pick it up from Target.

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As they lost selection advantage it felt like they started pushing more and more for product advantage by strong arming producers into creating a plethora of “exclusive” lines available only at Toys R Us.  The problem is that this was ultimately a losing battle as well because for example in my metro area at our height we had 2 Toys R Us locations.  On the other hand we have around twenty Walmart stores and about half that number of  Targets.  If you expand that out to the United States as a whole…  the amount of products that discount retailers purchase and stock as compared to specialty toy retailers has to be staggering.  So following on the heels quickly similarly exclusive product offerings started showing up in Target and then not long after Walmart diluting whatever advantage you once had.  Sure you could get a collector into your store to buy that one product, but it was likely they were ONLY buying that and then moving onto another location where the money stretched a little further.

The up-swell of GameStop and Best Buy during the 90’s put a nail in the coffin in product offering advantage Toys R Us might have had on the video games front as well.  Why would you go to Toys R Us for what was already a limited offering from their glory days… when you could just go to GameStop and find the return of carrying every available product offering for each console?  Every one of these missteps hurt Toys R Us long before online retailing came in to take the final chomp out of it.  Unfortunately the “biggest toy store there is” crown now belongs to Amazon.  Why would you drive from store to store to find the one action figure you want…  when you can just place an order online and get it shipped to your door in two days time?

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On the video game side we have a wide array of digital store fronts allowing us to plunk down our money…  and get a game within a few minutes rather than needing to throw pants on and drive to the store.  For me personally the convenience is king over anything else.  I could in theory purchase some of the games cheaper in physical form from Amazon and have the discs shipped to me in two days.  However I would rather just have the game installed and always “on tap” rather than needing to fiddle for the disc or figure out which case I shoved which game into.  In truth I am having a hard time remembering what the last game I purchased in physical form was.  More than likely it was World of Warcraft Cataclysm collectors edition, and even then only because they had not yet started offering digital collectors editions of their games.  From Pandaria onwards I happily gobbled up that digital CE and went on with my life rather than trying to hope and pray that Amazon would ship the game on time for me to hit the midnight start.

On consoles it is even more important to me personally to have games digitally, because when I take my switch or 3DS somewhere I don’t want to juggle a bunch of awkward cartridges…  nor do I want some sort of a “cozy” that I carry around with me to keep them organized.  I want the ability to flip to the game I want, hit a button and boot directly into it with no muss or fuss.  Since at least 2007 I have been 99.9% digital in my game purchases, and each one of those sales is in theory one that could have gone to a retailer like Toys R Us.  I am part of the problem and I am absolutely part of why this store is closing.

I have a deep nostalgia about my experiences with Toys R Us as a kid, but the adult version never quite lived up to those memories.  While I would like to think I am still a Toys R Us kid at heart and can break into song singing the theme…  I never had kids of my own to continue the tradition with.  Additionally shopping at the physical store is inconvenient and requires a trip to a completely different area of town than I visit on a regular basis.  Before the second store closed a few years ago… I used to go to that one occasionally because it was easy to get in and out of without a lot of hassle.  I remember semi-regularly visiting when I was looking for Lego Minifigures blind bags and even finding some ones stashed from an ancient series.

The problem is…  I maybe went there once a month if that and prior to the blind bags… it had been maybe five years since I had darkened the door of that store.  I will miss the Toys R Us from my memories, and this absolutely feels like one of those “end of an era” moments.  However it will join the same memory bin where Babbages, Software Etc, Media Play, Hastings, Circuit City, Computer City, Comp USA, KB Toys, Circus World and countless other stores I liked going to… but no longer exist.  Part of getting older is remembering fondly things that don’t exist anymore…  and I guess after a decline that started decades ago…  I am okay with adding Toys R Us to that stack.

 

 

 

Nergal Reaver

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One of the more interesting things about Monster Hunter World is how your perspectives shift as you level through the game and ultimately get better at it.  There was a time during the pre-launch demo that I considered Great Jagras to be challenging, and now that encounter doesn’t even bear mentioning.  I’ve beaten that monsters several times before it even had a chance to run anywhere as a way of testing out new weapons.  Similarly I remember a time when Tobi Kadachi invoked fear in me, and now it is just a chill electrical squirrel lizard that I largely ignore unless I specifically need parts from it.  Similarly I used to run from Legiana and now…  if it really wants to start some shit I will end it.

So the question is… what changed?  Ultimately the answer is that I did.  Sure I have better gear but also I have a better understanding of each of those fights.  I also understand how the higher progressed players are always willing to take on whatever happens to be that fight that you are currently considering difficult.  I remember being terrified of Anjanath but just recently farmed it to help folks get tickets for the Aloy appearance and bow event.  It is all a matter of perspective and each time you move up in the game you reach a new plateau of difficulty… that tends to make everything below it pale in comparison.

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This moves us forward to last nights activities.  Nergigante was one of those encounters that I never thought would ever reach a point where I was comfortable with it.  For me at least it was an extreme challenge to get through this fight when I needed it to move the story forward.  In the meantime I have been fighting other elder dragons, that in truth are way more annoying than Nergi or at least have the potential to be more annoying.  One of the weapons I have wanted in my elder dragon slaying arsenal is a Nergal Reaper…  which does some dragon elemental damage but more importantly has high elderseal.  This unfortunately would require me to farm Nergi… and that is just what I did last night.

Instead of throwing myself at this encounter solo… I decided on the nonsense option.  That means I threw myself at SOS roulette over and over until I farmed the components I needed from Nergigante.  This also means that there were more than a few times when a single newer player used up all of our faints and I failed at my mission.  However even then…  I walked away with a point of pride because during none of the MANY times I did this last night…  did I actually faint myself.  I managed to get in… deal significant amounts of damage with my new friend the poison blade and get out each time Nergi’s gaze turned to me.

Once again I had climbed to the top of the pile through repetition and experience…  and even more importantly perspective.  I’ve now fought things way harder than Nergigante and as a result the fight while mechanically the same seemed way easier.  This is the aspect of Monster Hunter World that I think I like more than any, the feeling that I grew as a player more than my character did.  Sure I am methodical when it comes to tackling new content, and sure I seem to be moving at a snails pace…  but I feel like I am continuing to move the needle forward.  Nergi has now entered the realm of things I feel comfortable farming…  which is good I guess since my friend Grace is sitting at that step in the process meaning the cycle continues.

The Stronghold Chasm

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Last night I fell down an unexpected rabbit hole.  For a few weeks I have known that my good friend PizzaMaid has been dabbling in Neverwinter, but I did not actually know that we were apparently all playing on the same server until last night.  When I got upstairs to nom my noms and check into the world, I saw that she was streaming neverwinter.  Joining her were my friends and fellow Pom’s Wolfy, Jaedia and Starspun all logging in to run a dungeon in game.  We had some confusion earlier in the week as to which server we were all on, and I thought I remembered the name Dragon at some point.  Apparently yes we are all in fact on Dragon which allows us to do interesting things together.

I had my own renaissance of Neverwinter back in January as I installed and booted up the game on a whim.  For years I had been getting press releases about the game to my blogging/podcasting email and I guess over time it built up a desire to log in and see how things were going.  What I found when I got there was an extremely fun and also insanely intricate game…  that I struggled to grasp.  I already thought there was a wide chasm of features and functionalities that I did not quite understand…  but I was apparently only on the rim of said chasm.  Last night we full well opened the maelstrom and hopped right in.

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One of the activities were partook of was forming a guild, so as of last night the Owlbear Preservation Society lives in Neverwinter with the aforementioned members as the inaugural group.  This unlocked the ability to start messing around with our Stromhold which is essentially the equivalent of the Guild Hall in Guild Wars 2.  Now I had been carrying around items that assisted in the function of a guild hall for ages, likely since the game originally launched.  The problem is I never actually had a guild to spend them on… so I spent the first few minutes of my time in our stronghold trying to figure out what to do with them.

It turns out you feed them to the mimic friend that we are all taking a screenshot with, and he then applies them to the various costs associated with building things back to their grand status.  I thought Guild Wars 2 had a pretty deep rabbit hole when it came to a guild hall… but this one might be deeper.  The problem is at this moment we have only barely scratched the surface and unlike Guild Wars 2… there are no really easy gains that can be applied and instead everything seems to be pretty slow to acquire.  Right now we are being directed to build a lumberyard, which seems to be capable of producing at least some of the materials we need to start crafting things.

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Everything that is flagged with a green icon has a placard in front of it allowing us to build it.  I am guessing everything marked with a grey X is something that will eventually unlock… once we have built up a certain number of things in our Stromhold.  This is a really deep well we have fallen into and I am not entirely certain we will really make much headway.  The collection of items seems to be through “daily quests” of a sort that reset every 9 hours in the Stronghold.  I will not be playing actively enough to do these on cool down, however considering most of the activities are pretty chill I am likely to do a set of them each time I log in.

The biggest problem we have currently is the fact that there are only five of us and this seems to be a design feature that is intended to be sped through by mass amounts of players doing these and funding the building coffers.  I have no clue how wide this madness will spread, but I somehow doubt we will have a mass influx of players like we have had when a new game launches.  I might be wrong, but I am guessing this is going to be a pretty low key grind that takes place over several months.

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As far as the rest of my play session, I managed to ding 41 and now that we have our stronghold… I can see that the level cap is 70.  The Stronghold itself is populated with tons of heroic encounters designed for a balanced group of players to go out and tackle which is fairly slick.  We downed a few of them and failed one major event largely because we didn’t really know what the purpose was until it was a bit too late.  It was a really fun night of nonsense and it has sparked my desire to poke my head into Neverwinter more often now that I am actually part of a guild.

Trapping Anjie

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Watch PSO2 Nonsense because Sol requested it from Belghast on www.twitch.tv
Last night when I got home I fired up the stream and played a little Phantasy Star Online 2.  Over the weekend Sol made a comment over my Stream discord that I really should be streaming as I played…  I assume so she could see what the game was about.  The core problem with that is I am guessing based on some of the things I have seen is that the early game is very much not entirely like the late game.  One of the reasons why I loved PSO back in the Dreamcast days is that it was essentially “Space Diablo”.  Essentially you had a randomly assembled corridor dungeon crawler set on a series interesting tilesets that involved killing everything and getting loot drops as your reward.  This core design loop seems to be in place in PSO2, and while I absolutely knew what I was getting myself into…  I am not sure if most other gamers would view the title the same way I do.

There are certain aspects of the game that feel very dated from the relatively chunky terrain to the fact that everything is essentially a tightly closed in circuit.  Sure you can do more with your terrain than you used to be able to do…  like jump…  I don’t think you could jump in the first PSO.  This is actually used in many cases to hide secrets in the verticality of the level design… but as is also seen in a sequence in my VOD from last night it adds to frustration because the jumping mechanics are also relatively low fidelity.  There is a point where I am trying to jump between the individual islands of rock in a chain surrounded by lava, and I am constantly failing to hit the terrain at exactly the right spot allowing me to hop up onto the surface.  While the game is only five years old at this point… but in some ways it feels older.

One thing of note… it took me a bit to realize that my microphone was muted so for the first little bit of the VOD I am completely silent.  I was talking up a storm, describing the various things I was encountering…  all wondering why the folks watching were not responding.  Then I noticed the blinking red light on my Yeti telling me that I had muted it at some point.  I think I have this revelation about ten minutes into the video where I correct it and apologize.  I am not really sure how often I will be playing PSO2 but I am nonetheless glad I went through the process of installing it.  It is a fun game and the core mechanical loop of killing sci-fi monsters for fun and profit is one that I enjoy greatly.  Just not all that sure how fun it is to watch me doing this thing.

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The tail end of my evening was spent in Monster Hunter World hanging out with my friend Grace and working on getting her the last few tickets needed for The Proving quest.  I had originally hoped to grab Thalen as well and help him out, but he was nowhere to be seen last night.  Generally speaking I am assuming he had pressing family matters, which I hear is a thing when you are a parent.  I mean I sometimes have pressing family matters too with my cats, but they are on I feel a completely different plateau of general needs.  Usually what I am dealing with is Kenzie prancing around in front of me trying to make sure I see the rubber band that she just dropped on my desk…  that she wants me to fling out into the hall so she can chase it.  If you ever hear the sound of a rubber band zinging through the air while I am streaming…  then I am doing precisely that.

The whole Anjanath farm thing had a side benefit in that I had really wanted to create Flammensucher the crazy flame axe that passes for a sword and shield.  During our final run of the night I managed to get the last of my fangs allowing me to craft it… and I have to say while I love it…  I am having a little bit of buyers remorse.  The problem is not the negative affinity, because it deals more than enough fire damage to make up for that.  The core problem so far is that it has completely horrible durability and I got down to orange sharpness while killing ten Gajau for an investigation.  I am used to being able to fight the boss through two changes of venue before dropping out of blue sharpness…  so this is a significant change for me to get used to.  The positive however is that the fire damage is still potent regardless of the base sharpness.

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At some point I need to get back on the wagon and work towards downing the final boss of the game.  I’ve been sitting on that step since this weekend and have yet to really give it an attempt.  I think that is in part because I have a screenshot directory full of things that look like the above…  with me failing various elder dragon fights.  Granted I tend to fail upwards and learn from my mistakes, but it also takes a lot out of me.  This combined with the fact that I have zero burning desire to “finish the game” means I tend to languish around in the doldrums leading up to final boss fights most of the time.  My friends like Void/GrnMushroom have a deep burning desire to defeat games that propels them forward into throwing themselves against fights until they eventually batter them down.  Me… I just like to wander around and constantly find myself actively avoiding finishing things…  even in a situation like this where I know it is just the beginning of a whole new playstyle.

I do however want to uncap my level…  at least until 49 where I have to fight another roadblock…  and start farming elder dragons for bits and pieces to make interesting sets and weapons.  I really need to start throwing myself at Nergigante until he is no big deal and something I can down regularly.  The weird thing is…  I would far rather throw myself into the nonsense that is SOS Roulette most of the time than actually solo something in this game.  I am not sure what it is about soloing that feels bad to me, even though my palico does an amazing job of tanking the bosses and keeping me alive with a constant string of vigor wasps.  It just somehow feels better when I am running around at minimum with another player, and at best with a full party of varied weapons.

Sure it gets frustrating when folks are fainting and there is nothing you can do about it…  it even causes me to curse very loudly sometimes…  but the fights are interesting because I am having to deal with all sorts of random elements.  This weekend when I was attempting Teostra I was starting to feel like I needed to stop calling myself a positivity gamer given how much I was cursing.  However Sita hung out with me and we Duo’d the fight…  but even that took a few attempts.  Basically Monster Hunter World feels best when it is a game played with other players be they friends or completely random strangers.  As a result I doubt I will stop the madness of SOS Roulette any time soon.