Ode to Cactuar

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Cactuar is a strange place and I love it.  This is of course the server a bunch of us play on in Final Fantasy XIV and compared to so many other game servers…  this one just seems to have a bizarre and friendly spirit to it.  There are a whole slew of us that have been practically living in Quarymill as we grind away at Palace of the Dead to level secondary classes and get a shot at tasty replica raid gear.  As a result Grace and myself happened to be milling around in town waiting for the festivities proper to begin that evening.  Grace pointed out that there were two people bouncing around on Big Chocobo mounts… and we both agreed something to the effect that we should both join in and make this happen.  So within moments of us joining the fray and bouncing around wildly on our giant chocos…  this happened.  Granted a few more guildies came over and joined in the fun but most of us this from just random people talking in /say as we bounced around happily.  This sort of thing is honestly an almost nightly occurrence on our server.  I cannot count how many times I have been in a major hub like this and a random pony party broke out, where everyone mounted up on their extreme primal mounts and started running around.  Sometimes it even evolves into a parade as we all run around throughout the zone.

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Cactuar is a weird place and I love it.  There are so many times I have had to step afk and typed /mdance before leaving…  and come back to a whole bunch of other strangers there with me also dancing the Manderville and somehow almost perfectly synced up with me.  I have so many people on my friends list because they had an amazing outfit and we just struck up a conversation, and we /wave madly at each other anytime we pass out in the world.  Argent Dawn the server I play on in World of Warcraft has always had its bizarre streaks, but more often than not there was an undertone of malice there.  In Final Fantasy XIV folks just seem to be interested in enjoying themselves far more than bringing other people down in the process.  I am sure Cactuar also has its dark underbelly, but generally speaking folks are friendly and more than willing to join in the silliness if given a chance.  It is funny how a server develops a certain culture, which is honestly the main reason why I question games that are essentially server-less.  I know our server “feels” different than a lot of the other larger servers, and I am never quite certain how that sort of thing develops.  I mean I guess it could simply be because our server mascot is a half man half cactus…  which doesn’t exactly evoke feelings of being hardcore and brutal.  Although… anyone who has ever fought a Cactuar knows the score as they fall over after a 10000 Needles attack.

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In other news I finally got to see the Sophia primal fight, as there were a bunch of us who had never done it.  I realize we are a few patch cycles behind on this one, but I have to say I really enjoyed it.  It was like all of the things happening with Leviathan…  but messaged far far better.  There are a lot of moving parts on the fight, but we largely winged it without having seen it and only the most vague description of the fight from those who had.  We single tanked it, and that role fell onto me…  since really I don’t have a well enough geared anything else to do big kid content on.  I had an awful lot of fun with the moving back and forth on the platform to avoid this ability or that… or the platform shift as the scales get out of balance.  We also did a one tank, one healer Ravana Extreme and that fight is still madness.  I would love to do that some more largely because I would really like to get my axe from there…  also of as a side note I would love to do some more Bismarck for the same reason.  I guess ultimately I really am a Warrior main, given that I didn’t swap at Heavensward and still have no plans to swap for Stormblood.  Of all of the gear I own… it is my Warrior gear that I end up enjoying the most.

New Beginnings

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Turning A Bad Situation

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Yesterday was an extremely odd day, where a good deal of it I spent sifting through horrible IRS interface documentation, and then the rest googling phrases in said documentation to try and find better documentation.  That alone had me at the literal end of my wits… which we all know are of limited supply in the first place.  Then something happened… something that could have been extremely bad.  I had an interaction with with a player that I really do not like, that I finally had to distance myself from to keep from losing my shit.  Several years ago I wrote about the infamous “Bunny Incident” and I felt like I was nearing the threshold of unfocused profanities flying freely.  So I stepped away and went to lunch, then when I finally came back to a device I found out that apparently I was not the only one who had been feeling that way.  So what could have been a horrible incident… actually turned into something completely different.  I know I am vague-booking here a bit, but I don’t really want to drill too far into the who and what because that isn’t terribly important in the truth because I am focused on what happened afterwards.  For awhile now I have been back playing MMOs after what felt like a several month long break from them, but I have been back largely playing by myself.  I have been enjoying my time in Rift and ArcheAge, but enjoying things as a solo venture is just different from playing with a large group of people who seem to be equally happy to be playing with you.

So this negative event has seemingly acted as a bit of a catalyst, in a measure that I wasn’t sure was possible.  What happened last night is that a large number of us logged into Final Fantasy XIV and spent almost the entire damned evening running content together.  It was truly glorious, and was originally focused around the concept of getting people caught up in the storyline but eventually filtered into so many different areas.  So from the moment I got home from work, until about 10 pm I spent that entire time hanging out with friends and tanking various things that people needed.  I lost track along the way what all we ended up running but I was literally down for anything anyone needed.  I helped people get caught up in 3.2 story content, 3.3 story content, the Void Ark, Alexander four…  basically a bunch of stuff that folks didn’t want to do solo but were more than willing to tackle with friends.  The end result was this amazing blur of laughter and the best aspects of what can happen when you are playing with your friends.  Instead of letting one negative event pull us down, we have seemingly galvanized that one interaction into something that I hope will last past the one night.

In talking with my friends throughout the night it seems like we were all waiting for the same thing.  For the bulk of our original group to return to playing the game.  When you have spent a year and a half struggling together…  playing without those folks seems like a hollow proposition.  I am thankful for the folks who have kept the home fires burning in the Greysky Armada during this extended absence, because it means we have a free company to come home to.  The bulk of yesterdays strife is rooted in a simple miscommunication, like so many conflicts seem to be.  Namely there were ground rules set that were never communicated to those of us who had been returning, around what was expected.  So when the person in question gave some rather ham-fisted edicts and unfortunately we took them in the worst possible way.  I am not really ready to bury the hatchet completely here, and for the time being I really want nothing to do with that person.  However what happened as a result has reinvigorated my feelings about Final Fantasy XIV as a whole.  I am certain to keep playing Rift, ArcheAge and Destiny… but for a bit I am focused on trying to help my friends get back engaged in the game.  Last night really felt like we were getting the band back together, and it was seemingly noticed by the social structure of Cactuar.  Tam and I were both welcomed back with open arms by a bunch of folks that we used to interact with on a nightly basis.  Just like returning to Rift has felt very much like returning home… coming back last night and playing Final Fantasy XIV with my friends was also very much returning home.  There is a level of joy in gaming that I felt last night that I have not felt in so many months… and it was intoxicating.

Bahamut Is Down

Some Personal Stuff

I feel like it has been pretty noticeable that I have been in a bit of a funk for the last few weeks.  When this happens I tend to extract myself from the world until the passes, which isn’t necessarily the smartest thing that I can do.  However over the years I have done this as my coping mechanism, because I am always afraid I will snap at someone when I get moody.  For a bit yesterday I was wondering if my magical happy pills were not longer working, but then my wife asked me something.  Was my low as low as it has been in the past…  and to be honest no.  Normally the world would be crushingly oppressive, and instead I just felt sort of permanently bummed out.  So I guess maybe things are working just fine, they are just filling in the valleys so that the lows are quite as low as they would have been otherwise.

Yesterday was one of the more stressful days that I have had in awhile.  We had someone patch a server and due to a conflict between the Windows Update Service and MacAfee that we have seen numerous times now… it caused a process deadlock that ended up taking down production services for hours.  This was stressful in so many ways, because while there was nothing I did to cause it… there was also nothing I could really do to help it either.  It was another department with another manager… and another set of priorities responsible for the fault and the fix.  So when I came home…  I was at an extremely low point.  However my wife and I went out to dinner, and then as the evening went on I started to feel better about the world.  It was like peeking out of a fog to see a lovely day behind it.  I guess in the grand scheme of things… if all of my low spots are like this from now on…  I will count myself lucky because while it sucked, it was manageable.

Bahamut Is Down

ffxiv_dx11 2015-08-03 20-49-56-40 One of the struggles in game is that I feel like I am caught between two worlds a bit.  It has taken longer than I expected to get the Monday night raid group pieced together and ready to do Heavensward content.  As a result we have been focusing on trying to get through the Final Coil of Bahamut, and made some significant progress.  Last week we were just shy of forming a group, so going into Turn 13 last night… we were all rusty.  However it feels like we got our bearings more quickly than normal and made a few adjustments.  Previously I had been tanking Bahamut at the twelve o’clock position which seems the most obvious place to drag him as you are running in… and do the traditional drag the boss while running thing.  Instead we swapped things up and I drug up back to the six o’clock position we entered the room at.  This allowed Ashgar to pick up the adds significantly easier and also allowed the DPS to burn them down faster.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-08-03 20-51-40-81 The real challenge however was like always… we suck at dive bomb phases.  However in spite of the fact that you ultimately have to deal with something like five divebomb phases, they seemed to come together more smoothly than we were used to.  Essentially you have to find Bahamut, and move out of the way while also moving out of the way of Twintania that comes barreling through immediately after him.  I think we only made it through two or three of these phases completely clean, however we did manage to rez the few players that got pushed into a wall.  I am constantly impressed at still how difficult of a fight this is.  Sure this is expansion old content at this point, but I am damned happy to be able to say I have defeated Bahamut, and I have a title and a minion to show for it.  Paragon to a really spiffy White Mage Cane as a result, and part of me wants to try and muster the troops to do this more often so that we can farm the really awesome weapons for folks.  I have to say…  the most stressed I have ever been in Final Fantasy XIV is trying to find a way to survive Ahk Mourn.  On the positive side…  Alexander turn 3 has caused me to get really good at timing Holmgang.

Alex Finally

ffxiv_dx11 2015-08-03 21-44-31-73 Last night was a significant night because not only did it see us beating Turn 13 of Final Coil of Bahamut… but it also saw us officially starting this expansions raid content as a group.  I love the Wednesday night group, and I am enjoying what is happening there… but there is something extra special about getting the Monday night group into Alexander.  While Kodra, Grace and I are parts of both teams, there will always be something special about my first Final Fantasy XIV raid group.  So it makes me happy that this week everyone was up to 170 and several were considerably beyond that…  even though it took a little bit of cheatery to get Ash’s paladin in the zone by wearing some strength jewelry.  We only really had time to do turn one of Alexander, but we came really damned close to oneshotting it.  Had we not started freaking out because we thought we were coming up against the hard enrage… we absolutely would have downed it in the first try.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-08-03 21-08-41-56 On the second attempt everyone felt more confident and we pushed the dps so much harder than before.  The awesome thing about coming in on a Monday is that several of us were already capped on Alexander pieces for the week which meant pretty much all of the newish folks walked away with something spiffy.  I look forward to coming in next Monday and clearing all four turns of Alexander, and getting everyone their freebie accessories.  From there maybe some Bismarck and Ravana?  It makes me happy to feel like I am making forward momentum with both teams.  The only thing that frustrates me a little bit is that I feel like we should go back and do Turn 8, which is the turn that Monday night skipped to start work on Turn 9.  So maybe next week I can talk people into doing that so that we finally can close the book on the Coil of Bahamut.  I don’t want to sacrifice getting people through Alexander for it, but I would love to be able to say I have beaten each of the turns.  All in all it was a pretty great night, not just for the raid victories but for also clearing away the fog that I have been dwelling in.

Luck in Alex

What Happened to Bel Folks Stuff?

I figure at this point some of you out there have to be asking yourself this question.  Quite honestly I am not sure what has happened, other than the fact that I am still fighting a bit of a funk.  With AggroChat I am supported by my cast of friends, and we have a specific format that we follow…  and that takes a lot of the pressure to perform off of me.  With “Bel Folks Stuff” I have to be “On” the entire time we are recording.  The end result is a much more draining experience, and I have to be in a certain mindset to make it work.  I walked back and forth on this point in my mind numerous times.  I still have a long list of people that I would like to have on the show, but do I force it just for the sake of keeping what passes for a schedule?

So far the answer I have kept giving myself is “No”.  This blog…  I can make a post out of thin air, but when it come to a podcast…  that is not a skill I have achieved yet.  The podcast and the idea behind it are not dead yet though, even if I am going on two months without a show.  In part I did not set a strict schedule because I wanted the process to feel natural and spontaneous.  The problem being that in order to get this sort of approach I have to be feeling up to the challenge.  Since Blaugust is this big challenge about creating regular content, I thought it was also important to talk about my own failings.  While we are running like clockwork with AggroChat, Bel Folks Stuff on the other hand is a bit of a mess.  Hopefully I will peek through whatever fog I happen to be in and will get back my moxy.  For the time between… all I really have is a heartfelt apology that I have failed to do more shows.

Luck in Alex

ffxiv_dx11 2015-08-03 06-34-19-26 Other than my odd little Minecraft mission, I had one major goal yesterday.  That was to get close to capping Esoterics and finish getting items from Alexander.  Earlier in the week I had managed to get into an Alex group with a few guildies, and in that process knocked out drops from 2, 3, and 4 leaving me only 1 to worry about.  Alexander turn one tends to be the more sane of them, and at this point it is the one that almost everyone knows how to do well.  I had mentioned this goal Saturday on voice chat, and my friend Warenwolf mentioned that he would like to go along with me.  The problem being that I took most of the day to get into the mood for doing some Alex.  However last night we zoned in together, and managed to get through it with absolutely no frustrations.  I myself needed either a Pedal or a Chain which would get me my boots or belt respectively.  It turns out that both Waren and I were on the lucky side as I won the Chain and he won a Bolt taking both of us to 182 item level.

On the other side of the goal, my adventures through the weekend have taken to 30 Esoterics away from capping.  A single expert tonight will push me over the cap, and put me in a good place for getting my weapon either Tuesday or Thursday.  Getting a new weapon is always a huge motivation factor for me.  As a habitual melee player… weapons mean so much and are essentially the soul of the class.  When you get a new one… your class for a moment feels completely new to you as you experience bigger numbers or higher threat values.  While I have enjoyed my level 180 weapon… I am more than ready to toss it in the dustbin because the 200 axe looks freaking amazing.  It is a return to the feel of the original Warrior artifact set that I felt in love with.  Right now the plan is to try really hard to grind out the rest of my esoterics on Tuesday, so that I have the axe ready for our Wednesday night raid.

Hunts are Great XP

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This expansion many of us have been following a little trick on how to make leveling feel less painful.  Clan Hunts are something that I find extremely relaxing as I pop around through several different zones taking out hunt marks and getting centurio seals in the process.  There however has been some method to my madness, and that method revolves around trying to take down as many hunt mobs as I can with a level or under leveled job.  Essentially the plan has been that for Western Coerthas, Sea of Clouds and Dravianian Forelands that I end up using a character around level 50.  Originally this was my Dragoon, until I managed to get him to around 55 and I simply did the entire course of hunt marks with him.  Now I am doing this with my Bard, and while I have not really played him other than this process… I already have him to 52.  The next two in line for leveling like this are my Paladin and my White Mage…  while the Paladin is probably going to be doable… I am questing just how easy it will be for me to push the White Mage through hunts.

What is nice about this process is that I personally focus on my hunts and not necessarily how fast I am gaining experience.  As a result it seems that I magically got to level 52 on the Bard without really trying.  Ultimately as you get higher in level those early Hunts stop paying out quite so nicely in the experience department, and you reach a point where you have to grind to get to the level cap.  However before you hit that juncture… it certainly feels nice to see your classes almost leveling themselves.  The best part about all of this is that this process feeds my ability to keep upgrading Law gear, and the other awesome happening of the weekend is that my Dragoon is a single ilevel away from being able to do Alexander as well.  In the process of grinding out my Esoterics on Tuesday, I should get enough Law to get to 170 and then I have two options for doing Alexander each week.  There are some nights I can stomach the process of tanking that place, and others that I would enjoy sitting in the backseat and dpsing more.  I would be happy if I never had to tank turn two again.

Anook Community Award

Prepping for Blaugust

At this point we are getting super close to the launch of Blaugust, and the sign ups keep coming on the Nook.  There is still time to sign up and be ready for the start of this exciting month.  Also remember there is zero penalty this year for starting late and catching up.  Last year my friend Tamrielo did something absolutely insane and wrote 31 really well formed posts in a 48 hour period.  While I would never suggest anyone do something like that, it is absolutely possible to start a week late and make up the missed progress.  Similarly I know folks will be attending Gamescom or Pax Prime during this month, so it is absolutely a good idea to stage the content ahead of time.  For the WordPress users out there I highly suggest you check out their pretty excellent mobile app (iOS, Android)  that gives you access to your blog on the go, and does a decent job of letting you compose a post on the go.

I tend to be a very pro WordPress person, but blogger is perfectly acceptible as well and while I have never used it there seems to be a mobile blogger client also (iOS, Android).  The primary reason why I tend to suggest WordPress is just that there is a path between WordPress.com free hosted service, and moving to a WordPress.org installation on your own custom hosting.  There are a number of guides out there to help this process along.  What I like so much about this is the fact that it lets someone get their feet wet and decide if this blogging thing is for them… before plunking down the money it takes to rent space on a web host and purchase a domain.  There are lots of people that never make the jump between COM to ORG, but it is nice that there is always that option if you want to do something with your blog that is not supported through the official channels.  There are also guides for going from Blogger to WordPress, but they tend to be far less straight forward.

Anook Community Award

Last night something really cool happened, namely that Lonrem the tirelessly working community manager of Anook.com posted an excellent “best practices” document on the Blaugust Nook.  If the document were not enough in helping people get the most out of their Anook experience… he also slipped a tidbit of information in down at the bottom.  For a few weeks now we had been talking about Anook wanting to sponsor some sort of award.  It was finally decided that the best way to have an Anook reward is to have the users of the website vote on their favorite posts.  Here are the basics of this award posted straight from his document.

I’ll also announce here that Anook is going to support Blaugust with a special prize! I’m going to tally up the Hearts that each blog post gets for each blogger (Blaugger?) and award the top blog with a game code. I’m going to see if I can round up other prizes from some of our friends and partners as well, no promises there! This does give a bit of an incentive to post regularly, start on the first of August, but also to share the link to your blog on Anook! If you’ve got any questions, let me know!

This is really awesome to have our first “real” sponsor…  because my pocket didn’t really count.  Last year when I started this, I decided to host the challenge off of Anook because it is a network that I love.  Lonrem singlehandedly won me over with his devotion, and the features basically keep me from ever having to build yet another custom SMF forum for anything.  So I fly the Anook banner on my stream and mention it on every AggroChat just because I love the site.  I am humbled that the site is returning some of that love and helping us get this challenge started in a bigger and better way this year.  I’ve had an idea through this contest of creating a games of the week where I suggest a handful of free to play games that folks play, and then write about their experience to help get those creative juices flowing.  While I might have been dreading the loss of my free time that Blaugust means…  I am absolutely getting pumped about how much more “real” this whole thing feels for 2015.

Surprise Alex

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-22 20-49-54-61 It is not uncommon for me to log in to Final Fantasy XIV in the evening and hear the all too familiar chime of a group invite before the game has completely loaded.  My guildies are used to ninjaing me into tanking all manner of things, and I assumed that it was yet another case of “daily expert”.  So I accepted the invite without thinking much about it, and found myself shocked when I saw the Alexander loading screen.  To make matters worse the ninja alex was turn 2, which is quite possibly the most frustrating thing for a tank to take on without having a second tank in there that they trust.  The problem being that pugs like to stack all of the mobs together, which makes it impossible for the tanks to effectively hold aggro on them.  What happens instead is that both tanks burn through all of their resources and the mobs spend the entire fight bouncing back and forth between them.  This would be fine and good if it were safe for a single tank to take them on… problem being that in the later phases you have to try and carefully split the damage to even it out.  All of the mobs on one tank is pretty much a certain wipe.

The positive of getting pulled into Alex like this however is that it took away my normal reluctance to such things, and as of last night I now have three of my four pieces of loot for the week.  All that is left is Turn 1, and quite honestly it is the least stressful for me to pug.  The tanks have clearly defined roles and for the most part they go fairly smoothly now that most people are pretty well geared.  At this point for that final item I want either a chain which would instantly give me a belt, or a pedal… which would also instantly give me an item because I have a second one in my inventory.  I have to say the way gearing works in Alex is a little maddening, but I feel that honestly it is their way of trying to delay people reaching level 190 geared.  With Esoterics in place, I can’t really see going for say the Alexander chest piece since it takes getting a lucky roll four weeks in a row on Turn 4.  My first Esoterics item of course will be the 200 weapon, because for a tank that is the single most useful upgrade.  After that I will probably assess my weakest pieces and go after what I need the most…  which is more than likely going to be my chest piece.  Of course in the mean time Square could do what they seem to always do… and change up the game by taking away loot restrictions.  That said I still think it is a little early in the patch for that to actually happen, and more than likely won’t be until 3.1.

Tidy Whitey Man

Commoditization of Music

A few days ago I wrote a piece talking at least in part about how the prevalence of steam sales has lowered my valuation of games in general.  Yesterday while running errands at lunch I happened to catch a piece on NPR talking about how Audio Streaming is both the salvation and the curse of the record industry.  I did not catch the name of the show but they brought on several points of view, talking about how it is both creating new artists, and giving folks a steady trickle of income…  but making it extremely hard for said new artists to actually work on music as their fulltime job.  While I sympathize with this point of view, I have to say that I am absolutely one of the people who is no longer buying music.  There is the rare occasion when I buy an album that does not yet exist on a streaming service, for example I have purchased the two  Final Fantasy XIV soundtracks, and have the third on preorder.  However once I get them, I rip them and upload them to my Google Music account so I can listen to all of the music I care about through that one interface.

I guess the strange thing for me… is that I want to pay something for music but that I ultimately just want to pay a single monthly fee for “all you can eat” access.  While I absolutely love music on one level, on another level it has become commoditized for me.  There was something about going to the record shop, buying a CD, opening the package…  getting that new CD smell…  and then consuming it.  With the digital age that experience is all gone… and it makes me hard to care about it on any level deeper than what I happen to be hearing.  Also I feel like along the way my listening patterns changed. Music to me is a background soundtrack to my work day and my commute, and my attention is always somewhere else and not fully on the music.  Before the advent of streaming music, I had already pretty much stopped purchasing music… except for on very odd occasions.  As soon as I could pay one price to get full access to an existing library however… I was on board with that and after trying all of the current services I finally landed on Google Music being the best option for me.  There was a point where I realized that I no longer care about “owning” music and simply want to “lease” access to it, and I figure my monthly fee from streaming is giving the music industry more money than the “zero” they were getting from me before.

Tidy Whitey Man

ShooterGame 2015-07-14 21-23-40-70 Yesterday I had all of these plans to help shuttle a group of sub 170 players through a bunch of expert dungeons for tomestones of law and great freedom.  The problem is the game conspired against me, and at 9pm my time the servers went down for emergency maintenance.  Generally speaking when the servers go down with such short notice there is some sort of exploit at play, namely one that has “game breaking” ramifications.  So instead of doing the thing that I had intended to do… I was left with a plethora of other options.  The problem being… the only thing I really wanted to be doing was playing more Heavensward.  So I popped out of game and out of teamspeak and booted up the wildly popular survival game Ark for the first time.  I have a couple of groups of friends playing on various servers, but I wanted to at least get a feel for the game before I dove into having other people around me.  The game has a nifty local only mode that I decided to spin up a map in.

First off…  I had no clue what I was doing.  I could see a beacon off in the distance so I thought well…  maybe the game is intending me to run in that direction.   Along the way I figured out a few things… that I could punch trees to get materials, and I could pick up rocks with my bare hands.  The problem being that punching trees is apparently bad for my health.  Like when you are doing it.. the game messages quite clearing that you are hurting yourself.  After a bit of running around and collecting beach debris I figured out how to craft something.  I managed to punch a tree long enough for it to provide some wood, which allowed me to fashion a crude pick… and I was off to the races.  From there I leveled up and learned how to make an axe and a fire pit, and seemingly life was going pretty well.  That is until I continued down the path of madness that was finding the beacon.  At which point I stumbled across a level 26 spitter, that killed me rather quickly… and the controller that I was not using vibrated madly as I died.  So next time I maybe have a better idea on how to go about this process, and I am also going to try playing it with my xbox 360 controller since the game apparently supports it.

Alexander Ready

Assorted Updates

TardisShowerCurtain First up I want to thank everyone for checking in on me after my Saturday post.  I am doing largely okay myself, but I wanted to talk about my own struggles in the hopes that it might bring someone out of the woodwork and let them know that they really aren’t as alone as they might think.  I am still processing the information about my friend, but again I am more concerned about another one of my friends for whom the news is much closer.  I was absolutely overwhelmed by the support you all gave me though, and I am consistently amazed at just how loving a community the twitter and blogosphere communities can be.  Sure there are people out there that make these places toxic environments, but I seem to have filtered out any possible negative elements from my own feed so that all I really see is positive people who have always been willing to embrace me when I needed it.  In part I am hoping that if someone is struggling…  they also see the overwhelming response I got… and maybe it convinces them that it is worth reaching out and talking to someone.

This weekend was very much the “last call” for the dumpster, as it should get picked up today.  The weekend before we tackled both of our offices, and Saturday we tore into the upstairs bathroom.  For several years now it had gone neglected, and the upstairs shower room was essentially a catch all of big things that we “intended” to take to good will but never actually got there.  As a result that room had probably not been opened for roughly a decade.  We fixed that… and did a bunch of little things throughout the weekend as well.  This is also seemingly the weekend of finally taking care of things we intended to do.  Over the course of Saturday I took three full loads to goodwill, and at the end of the day we were finally able to deploy this amazing Tardis shower curtain that I have had for a few years, with the intention of going in that bathroom.  The cats are confused as hell with the constant changes in their world.  The upstairs bathroom also serves as the littlebox room… and our eldest cat just sat in there Saturday evening confusedly meowing… because she didn’t recognize the place.

Office Improvements

mynewsetup A week ago I posted an “in progress” shot of my office and this weekend I continued to refine it.  One of the side benefits of Saturday was getting a cabinet that would fit under the printer table, that now serves as my toolbox.  This allowed me to sort the various tools that I found while cleaning and organize them in one place.  Sunday however became the day I tackled hooking up the consoles again.  Below the television that is proudly displaying Street Fighter Alpha 3 (we will get to that in a bit) is a cabinet that contains my PS3, PS4 and Xbox 360.  I had to cut holes in the backing board of the cabinet to fish the cords through but in the end in works pretty well.  While I had my PS4 torn apart I also performed the upgrade from the stock 500 GB hard drive to a new Samsung 2 TB one…  and the nice thing about this setup is that it is close enough to the router that I can actually hard wire the network instead of relying on wireless for everything.  My hope is that this improves the performance of remote play through both the Vita and the PSTV.

All of these are hooked into an HDMI switch box that then goes through my Elgato capture card into my PC, allowing me to capture video from any of the devices.  The new device that is playing SF Alpha 3 however is a side project that I started a couple of years ago.  I had purchased a Foxconn Netbox PC some time ago for the purpose of turning it into an emulator machine.  Problem being in my old setup there was never really a good place to hook it up, and while I managed to get an operating system loaded on it…  I never did the required fiddling to make it all work.  In the meantime I had been searching for a more turnkey solution and finally landed upon Lakka, which is a custom Linux distribution designed entirely around running the RetroArch emulator platform.  The awesome thing about it is that it also has Samba set up so it mounts each of the required directories as windows shares so you can simply copy files to it over the network.  So as of yesterday I got it up and running and have NES, SNES, GB, GBA, DS, Genesis, Master System, Game Gear and a few Arcade games running on it.  Really happy with the way it is working, the only negative is that apparently the N64 emulator will not run at all on 32 bit hardware…  so I can live without that.

Alexander Ready

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-12 14-55-34-01 From a gaming perspective my world has revolved around getting to item level 170 in Final Fantasy XIV.  This is the magical breaking point that allows you access to the new Alexander raid, and can be attained through a combination of law gear and clan hunt based upgrades.  As of last night I am sitting at 173 with every item upgraded to 170 or better except for one of my rings.  Yesterday afternoon I managed to get into turn one of Alexander with Wulf and Grace and on our second attempted pushed through the encounter.  It was a really fun fight to tank along side Wulf, and while he continued on into the progression… I dropped out to help folks with dungeons.  My hope is that maybe tonight I can get in some more of Alexander because supposedly at the end of the quest chain, you end up getting a “Bolt” the item that can be exchanged for an accessory slot.  This would ultimately make it so that I didn’t need to somehow purchase a second tomestone of law ring, but instead jump straight to the 190 equivalent.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-12 21-45-55-08 I am really happy that in theory my gear grind is coming to a close at least on the Warrior.  This is largely because I really want to start pushing my focus to the Dragoon so I can get it up to level as well.  Right now I am roughly half way to 55, and honestly a few more dungeon runs would get me there quickly.  Right now however every waking moment in game has been spent making sure I do all of my duty roulettes so that I can get all the bonus law I can manage.  Even with a shift in focus to the Dragoon I will still probably end up getting a bunch of law, simply because I get called on by my friends in the free company to tank random stuff.  I quite literally could be happy if I did nothing but run dungeons, because this set of dungeons is freaking amazing.  The last few days I have managed to get The Vault as my low level roulette, and I am perfectly fine with this because that place is so much more enjoyable than doing another Brayflox or god forbid Aurum Vale.  While I am still struggling inside with the news I got on Friday, the weekend as a whole was pretty successful in at least taking my mind off of it for large blocks of time.

Northern Thanalan Problem

Button Mash Bard

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-11 22-16-35-69 Last night during the podcast I piddled around in Final Fantasy XIV as I often do.  The fact that I had to edit a section of the podcast out because of my rapid fire keyboard mashing… means I was piddling around on my bard.  Of all of my classes… this is the one that I seem to give the least shits about actually playing correctly.  I will leave good barding up to Shiana, Warenwolf and Thalen…  me I just mash buttons and pray.  One of the problems is that I have all of these characters currently sitting at level 50 that I got to cap last expansion.  The bard, the white mage and the paladin among them.  The problem being right now without quest support there is no real handy way to get to level 51, which is the level you need to be to hit the first dungeon.  On my dragoon I have been pretty much living in dungeons, and as a result I have managed to make a significant push in level, as he is roughly half way to 55.

So last night I struggled to figure out just how to get my bard over the hump, so I could start doing the same with him.  I wandered around a bit in Western Coethas only to remember that even with the armory bonus…  FATEs in Heavensward are still pretty terrible.  Then Ashgar mentioned that I should do what I did at 49… and just go to Northern Thanalan.  So I zoned into that area and it took longer to load than either Ishgard, Mor Dhona or Idyllshire.  It turns out that pretty much everyone is living in this zone, and I guess it makes sense.  On average FATEs in Western Coerthas rewarded my bard 28,000 experience.  On average FATEs in Northern Thanalan rewarded around 21,000 experience… and the zone is about a fourth of the size of Western Coerthas… and has just as many FATEs.  This means that there is a constant train of pink marks showing up all over your map.

Northern Thanalan Problem

Screenshot (15) On the live letter this week they mentioned that they would be tweaking FATEs to make them a better value proposition for players, and I think this is a bit of an understatement in the level of the issue that is happening.  One of the interesting things about the internet and mmos is that players will figure out the shortest route to solving a problem and abuse the hell out of it.  Quickly players realized that they could simply level faster by living in Northern Thanalan… and that is quite literally what is happening.  I would estimate last night during the podcast there were somewhere close to 200 players in zone fighting over the FATEs that spawned, and in a crazy game of whack-a-mole as soon as one dropped the next one would be up and the rush would begin across zone to get the first hits in on it.  We experienced these same problems at release with the abuse of a very specific FATE in Northern Thanalan called “Dark Devices” and it seems like once again this zone is the king of the fast leveling curve.

The problem with this is that it makes the game boring.  You stand in zone and hang out there until you are 60… and quite literally players are doing this on their alternate classes, riding this elevator to the top floor and then getting off just in time to gear for Alexander.  The end result is that we are starting to see level 60 players who have not done a single class quest and as a result have NONE of their new class abilities.  Time doing class quests is time taken away from the “super efficient” level mill of Northern Thanalan.  Here in lies problem two…  this zone is a fun zone to run FATEs in… and absolutely worth while for players post 45 when Central Coerthas starts to slow down.  My biggest fear is that we are going to see a bit of an overcorrection that leads to Square nerfing the FATEs in this zone once again to try and prod players to leave it.  What I want to see instead is that they incentivize the content in the new areas… to make it worth spending time there and doing the FATEs.

More Carrot to the Stick

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-19 23-50-32-16 Those first days after launch, the FATEs were getting run and every single major boss fate was dropping all sorts of awesome items.  Then players realized, or at least Reddit realized that mathematically the FATE grinding experience was shit.  I want to see players in the zones doing the content the zones have to offer.  We long speculated that they purposefully under-incentivized the FATEs to get players to actually do quest content, because at the launch of A Realm Reborn… it was absolutely a problem with players completely ignoring quests until they hit the level cap.  The issue here is that dungeons are gated through the storyline… and without players entering the dungeon system… the queues got more than a little out of whack.  So I guess I support the notion of nerfing FATEs temporarily… but at this point something needs to be done to derail the Northern Thanalan train once again.  I don’t think we can probably afford to wait until 3.1, so I am hoping that we see a minor patch that introduces a series of tweaks that right this ships course.

In the meantime I am guessing I will start running Levequests to get over that 50 to 51 hump, because after the madness of last night…  I really did not find the Northern Thanalan experience enjoyable.  I had way too many flashbacks of the way the dark devices grind felt.  I absolutely rode that up on my Bard and then never touched it on another character again.  The game has some really awesome FATEs in the new areas that each tell a story…  some of which we ended up talking about last night.  I want Square to find a way to add enough carrot to their stick, in order to convince players that staying in the zone they are currently in and running FATEs is a valuable option.  Mostly I want to be able to knock out all of the different zone boss fates because there are interesting things sitting on their loot table if you manage to get to gold contribution.  Two weeks into the expansion though I am still loving it in spite of all the minor problems we have complained about.  We talked about this last night in the podcast, that it seems like we complain a lot…  but it is more a case of us wanting them  to iron out the rest of the wrinkles… because the game is really damned polished already.

The Gearing Game

False Starts

Yesterday I made an attempt to go to work, but ultimately was told to head home by my boss.  Over the last few days I have been pretty much living on the couch with my leg slightly elevated and alternating icepacks on it.  The problem being that I don’t exist like this in the real world, where sitting at a desk generally requires that your feet be on the ground.  While I love the arrangement of my cube at work, it really does not allow for me to elevate my leg at all.  Not surprisingly within an hour of being at work my knee was swelling something fierce.  So I headed home and started the process of icepacks over again until it started to behave somewhat normally.  The positive is however that the area that is actually swelling is rather small and contained as compared to the day the fall happened, so I guess I am recovering quickly.

The biggest problem, the one that effects this blog is the fact that my wrist has hurt an awful lot.  After struggling through yesterday mornings post, I was pretty much typing one handed for most of the day.  I wore a brace most of yesterday and as of this morning it is feeling much better.  It is still extremely tender when I move my wrist too quickly or to any extreme of motion…  but overall it is more functional.  Hopefully this means I can return to normal typing instead of this frustrating one handed mess that I dealt with yesterday.  Since it is also my “mouse hand” that is effected I have been surprised that really using a mouse doesn’t hurt much at all.  I guess in general I am used to keeping my mouse sensitivity so high that I barely have to move my hand at all to send the cursor flying across the screen.  Hopefully today will be a much better day and I will continue to mend quickly.

The Gearing Game

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-07 20-00-37-22 Like most players in Final Fantasy XIV, my life revolves around the acquisition of Tomestones of Law.  To get a full set of “law” gear it takes roughly 3500 and they have given us many options on how to get them.  Firstly there are three dungeons that reward 80 tomestones each, and an additional 40 if you can manage to catch someone who still has their first time bonus or “virgin bonus” as we have taken to calling it.  In addition to that you get 100 tomestones for both a low level roulette and a high level roulette each day, and an additional 60 for a trial roulette.  The one that surprises me however is that Expert Roulette is only worth 80, but I guess in theory it has a face value of 160 to 200 since you are getting stones from the dungeon proper as well.  In order to get into Alexander, the raid that just opened players need to reach a combined ilevel of 170 which also happens to be the level of the tomestone gear.  So in theory you need a full set in order to step through its doors.

Where you can cheat a bit is through those ubiquitous “Clan Hunts” that I have been using as filler leveling.  It turns out all of the items needed to upgrade your gear from 170 to 180 come from Centurio Seals.  Hopefully you have been doing these religiously because in order to get a full set of gear upgraded to the next step it is going to take a grand total of 2795 seals.  Now granted you can hop on the hunt train like you could in the previous expansion and in theory grind this out in a weekend.  Personally I happen to find the daily hunt mechanic rather relaxing, as I can log in… fly around the gorgeous zones and pick off the mobs one at a time.  Right now I have four pieces of gear… chest, helm, ring, and weapon.  Currently I have upgraded the weapon and ring to 180, and am saving enough hunt marks to upgrade the chest piece next.   There will come a time when I stop messing with anything other than three star and elite hunt marks, but for the time being they also serve to help level my dragoon for the lower level ones.

Dragoon Dungeoning

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-07 21-59-43-32 Right now if there is a moment when I am not engaged doing something else, or tanking something that can gain me law stones…  I am pretty much in the dungeon queue on my Dragoon.  Right now the dps queue seems relatively manageable sitting around the 10 minute mark for “leveling” dungeons.  As a result it is my hope to ride this queue for as many classes as I can manage.  After running a couple of max level dungeons, I settled into a couple of quick runs on the dragoon who is now up to “Sohm Al” level.  I have to say I find this pretty relaxing as well, because I can just sit back and poke things with a stick.  I opted to go ahead and record my dungeon run to add it to the stack of dungeon videos I have on my youtube channel.  I had not actually recorded any when I was not currently tanking, so it gives a slightly different perspective of the fights.  I have to say I am really digging the “tribal” look that comes from Sohm Al.  That helmet is freaking amazing, and is likely going to go in my glamour bin for future usage.  At this point I am roughly halfway through 53 so I figure it will take two more dungeon runs to hit 54, and then five to six past that before I can do the next dungeon at 55.  Embedding the video and cutting this post short today without a second paragraph.

Nael in the Coffin

Strange Dreams

For the last few nights I have had the strangest but at the same time most vivid dreams.  The problem is that they are for the most part utter nonsense.  For example this morning I woke up from a dream involving writer Beau Hindman.  He had reached out to me to ask if I had any gmail invites…  and for those of you for whom that makes zero sense…  Google mail was once upon a time invite only and invites were rationed and carefully guarded.  I told him that I had a couple that I could hand out, and he asked me to send one to someone.  Turns out the person in question was an old man that lived in the small town my wife grew up in.  Apparently Beau really needed to get ahold of this person… and apparently using the phone was just too cumbersome?  Trust me…  I fully understand a lack of wanting to call someone… so I too would probably go through strange lengths to avoid it.

When the guy didn’t accept the invite, I had to drive up to the small town and talk to him in person.  He was afraid that the internet would steal his soul, and by having an email account he would be supporting the terrorists or something.  So I spent the next hour talking him into accepting the invite, all so Beau would be able to contact him.  Sure it is madness, and honestly Beau and I are not even in contact that often, but somewhere in my brain it made all of this make sense.  That is the crazy thing about dreaming… is at the time none of this seems as irrational as it does when you are trying to break it apart later.  I guess Beau got pulled in because I know that he is originally from Oklahoma, and my wife often gets a staring role in my dreams…  so it is strange the way the mind weaves this seemingly plausible tapestry out of bits and pieces of leftover memories.

Nael in the Coffin

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-06 20-24-04-24 Monday nights is traditionally our Final Fantasy XIV raid group night, and last night was no exception.  For months… literally… we have been working on learning the dance on Turn Nine of the Coil of Bahamut.  For a long time now we have been super close to pushing over the edge, and held up on the madness that is the dive bomb phase.  Last night we wanted to defeat Nael by any means necessary so we could move on with our lives.  Not sure if it was true for all of our group, but I have developed a love and hate relationship with this fight, and was more than ready to put it behind me.  One of the features added with Heavensward is the ability to queue for something as an undersized group.  What this does in theory is zone you into a place without scaling your level down to the appropriate place.  What this means in practice is that you can now wreck certain zones for the purpose of collecting those dungeon drops you missed in the past.  Since several of us were sitting at level 60, we decided to give this option a shot on turn nine and see what would happen.

The truth is the very first attempt out of the gate we straight wiped to mechanics and over confidence.  After that it still took us a few tries to get the dance close enough to being correct to be able to finish off the encounter.  The funny thing is… that even with 20% echo and 10 more levels… the fight can still straight up eviscerate you.  I think we managed to down it on our fourth attempt last night, and can now move on with our lives into Final Coil.  On one level it bums me out that we didn’t “do it for real” by facing this encounter at level 50.  On the other hand however I am happy to be done with being in there.  There comes a time when you just get sick of seeing the same encounter over and over, and I remember our group reached that same place back in WoW’s Blackwing Lair with the Firemaw encounter.  It is going to be interesting to see what the next few weeks bring us as far as content goes.  Today is the official launch of Alexander, but as it stands right now… none of us are even vaguely closed to “geared enough” to tackle it.

Ice Packs and Grinding

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-07 06-43-39-47 Yesterday I stayed home from work because I was struggling to walk around.  So my key focus in life became making sure I was ice packing every hour or so for maximum effect.  This meant that most of the day I spent it hanging out on the couch with my leg propped up a bit.  It also means I spent a lot of time piddling around in Final Fantasy XIV.  Throughout the day I worked on getting all of my Clan Hunts for maximum upgrade token goodness, and did all three of my bonus law roulettes, which left a lot of time to work on my Dragoon.  Now previously I had managed to get it to level 51, which is key because that unlocks access to the dungeon Dusk Vigil.  So yesterday I spent the majority of my in game time queueing for Dusk Vigil over and over.  Before raid time last night I was but a sliver away from 53, which should grant me access to the second dungeon… Sohm Al.  The only problem with Dusk Vigil is that technically nothing in it other than the jewelry are strictly upgrades from what I had been wearing.

Sohm Al on the other hand… everything in there should be full of upgradey goodness other than maybe the weapon.  The other good thing about running all these dungeons is that I am able to soak up gear for my alt jobs for when I finally get around to leveling them.  I like that pretty much every dungeon in Heavensward offers an item set, which is unlike the old world where only every so often did a dungeon actually drop something cool looking.  I really want to finish the Dragoon set from Dusk Vigil because it looks kinda amazing.  It is a blue set of armor that looks just like the one that Lucia is wearing in the cut scenes.  In the news of me… well I am largely functioning better thanks to the constant ice packs.  At this point the swelling is down significantly and I am hoping I can function today without a lot of pain.  I am sure come this evening I will need to ice pack once more but for the time being… life seems to be grand, or at least getting there.