Mobile Matters

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For years I have said that I really did not think that gaming on my phone was really my “thing”.  It was a platform that I largely felt didn’t quite fit my lifestyle, because in part I felt like I either had access to PC and Consoles…  or simply didn’t have the ability to game period.  Recently however I have been eating the hell out of those words.  For the last week or so I have been getting used to a new phone, and at some point I will probably do a proper review of it.  Functionally I could not bring myself to spend $800 to $1000 on a new phone… and my Samsung Galaxy s5 had lots of problems.  This lead me to branch out and look into some other options… and I finally landed on the ZTE Axon 7 which is a very solid attempt at a Chinese flagship killer.  When I finally do a proper review I will get around to more about that, however suffice to say I am enjoying it.  There is a thing that happens with PC gamers…  when we get new hardware.  We go through this phase of installing everything that we have cared about in the past… and trying it out on the new setup to see what has and has not improved.  With this new phone being so much more powerful than my previous one…  I found myself going through this same routine and testing out things like the android Hearthstone client.  When I say the previous phone had issues…  it is because once upon a time I rooted my phone in an attempt to bypass the AT&T blockade against tethering/wifi hotspots on my current plan.  I still have one of those ancient grandfathered in iPhone unlimited plans…  and while they have raised the price there is no way in hell I am giving up $25 a month unlimited mobile data.

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While the S5 is technically no longer rooted, I seem to have tripped some anti-tamper seal of a sort on the phone and it fails the Google Safetynet test that app manufacturers have started incorporating into their apps.  This means that I was forced to stop playing Pokemon Go when they patched in this protection, and similarly have been unable to experience Fire Emblem Heroes, Mario Run or a whole slew of newer games that just do this check by default.  The biggest problem with me and phone gaming in the past however was the battery life, and the way that a few minutes of Final Fantasy Record Keeper could shave off 25% of my battery before I even realized.  With the new phone this seems to no longer be the issue that it once was… and either because the processor does not need to work nearly as hard…  or the fact that I have a 3250 mAh battery (instead of 2800 mAh) I can functionally play games and still use my phone for everything else that I want to.  As a result lately I have been heading to bed fairly early and then chilling out there and playing mobile games until sleep finally claims me.  Similarly while I am out and about I am starting to play a lot more Pokemon Go, but have not really gone out on catching jaunts like I did around the release a year ago.  I contemplated going out last night but it was still over 90 degrees outside after 9pm, so I figured I would leave that to a cooler evening.

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The games that have seemed to clamp down the hardest on my attention however are Fire Emblem Heroes…  which is a thoroughly charming tactics style combat game and of course Final Fantasy Record Keeper that I already played a significant amount of in the past.  This is the point where I admit that I have never actually played a Fire Emblem game in the past, and while I am sure the actual games are not terribly similar to this mobile title…  it does make me a hell of a lot more interested in them.  The premise is largely nonsense…  but it is the sort of nonsense that I find myself enjoying at the moment.  The biggest problem with these games is that I really have no clue what I am doing on a regular basis… and not even sure what the best way to do anything in game is.  I’ve been slowly working my way through the story in Fire Emblem, and in Record Keeper I noticed that they seemingly have gotten less sparing with handing you a bunch of characters.  I worked my way through most of a Final Fantasy XIV themed event dungeon… and picked up Yshtola, Minfilia, Yda, Papalymo, and Cid…  and started working my way through a similarly FFXII Zodiac Age themed one.  Much like in Pokemon Go… the excitement for me is in the collection of new characters and not so much in the leveling and battle.

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Lastly I have been slowly working my way through Final Fantasy V on the phone as an attempt to do things like play over my lunch break…  which admittedly has not actually happened yet.  I got completely wrecked last night by Garula, which means I am going to have to sort out a decent strategy for this one.  Of course I am not playing the game legitimately… and instead am doing the Four Job Fiesta…  which means I am attempting to take him down as a party of four Black Mages.  Its time to go figure out some strategery so I can get past him and get my next set of jobs.  I find the mobile FFV client a little wonky… and especially in mobiles where you need fine motor control…  that is not a thing the touchpad really gives you.  Getting through the poison plants at the top of the mountain was not really a thing…  so I simply opted to walk through a couple and take antidotes.  Regardless it works well enough for my needs and gives me a reasonable platform without really shackling me to a specific location for playing it.  I kinda hope we eventually get a version on the switch through either virtual console… or a release of this mobile port to it.  Whatever the case….  someone seems to have replaced me with a doppelganger that does not mind mobile gaming all the sudden.

 

Walking Simulator

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Gotta Catch Em All

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If I had any topic to talk about today, it was immediately erased from my mind as soon as I got my grubby hands on Pokemon Go.  I was in fact one of those bastards that went through the relatively simple process of installing it to bypass the region lockouts.  First off I want to address something that is frustrating me, is that for some reason people seem to think defeating region lockouts is “hacking”.  Region lockouts are dumb, and at least on Android devices, any time you download anything you are already downloading the APK as that is how anything installs.  The beauty of the android platform is there isn’t just one app store, in fact on my device I currently have Google Play, Amazon Underground, and APK Pure all installed and living happily together.  These are especially handy when confronted with a device that for whatever reason is trying to block the actual Google Play store and instead keep redirecting you to their carrier run store.  Anyways with that out of the way, I downloaded the APK and had it sitting on my device while I ran out to lunch yesterday.  On my way out of the building I caught my first Pokemon which was one of the original three starters….  Go Team Squirtle!  Then before I had even left my building I also happened to encounter a Staryu…  things were getting off to a great start.

Screenshot_2016-07-06-16-23-51I had errands to run so I drove out to one of the nearby hubs of shopping that houses a ton of big box stores.  I needed to pick up some cat
food and cat litter from Target, and also wanted to pop by Rackroom shoes to see if I could find any sandals that I did not hate this season.  When I pulled into the parking lot of Target I opened up the app and noticed several Pokemon nearby where I parked.  When you are anywhere, you see critters within the vicinity of you… and when you get close enough to one you can attempt to capture it.  Sadly I have no screenshots of the capture process because it goes quickly.  Essentially it is playing Skeeball, and for those who don’t have that cultural frame of reference… you are flicking the Pokeball with your finger and trying to hit essentially a target that represents the sweet spot for capturing each specific Pokemon.  If you tap on the Pokemon you will see a set of rings with a green spot being the best possible place to land your hit in order to capture.  You have a limited number of attempts before the Pokemon runs away and cannot be seen on your map.  Of note all of this stuff tries to place your Pokemon in your surroundings using Augmented Reality via your phones camera.  I however didn’t really want to see the real world and would far rather have a cartoony Pokemon world to be wandering around in and capturing critters.

Screenshot_2016-07-06-12-33-01So there I was wandering around a Target parking lot, I am sure looking like an idiot… but you know what I didn’t care.  I was having fun and capturing all sorts of cool Pokemon.  By the time I left that parking lot I had managed to gather up a whole bunch of new critters
including a really nice Eevee.  Now each Pokemon you catch has a CP level…  which doesn’t mean much to me as of yet because well I just started playing this yesterday.  However from what I have been able to tell the higher the number the better, and this factors into what sort of stat package that they have.  So my Eevee in question came out of the box as it were with 104 which is significantly higher than any other Pokemon I have seen yet.  Ironically the hardest capture yet was my Magikarp, namely because it kept flipping around aimlessly anytime I tried to toss the Pokeball.  Not only do you have to try and land the sweet spot, but most Pokemon will move around on you while trying to do this.  Similarly I utterly failed at capturing a Butterfree because apparently it is a little stronger willed than others.  I captured it three times… and all three times it broke out of the ball… eventually flying away never to be seen again.

The reason why I titled this post Walking Simulator, is because that is a genre name that folks have tacked onto games that are about walking around and exploring virtual worlds… but without any combat to speak of.  Pokemon Go however is quite literally a game about walking.  The world has all of these objectives out there in the form of PokeStops and Gyms that seem to appear based on the previous Ingress player portal locations according to Thalen who had apparently played that game way more than I ever did.  So for me I have one right around the corner from my house in the form of a statue.  So last night I convinced my wife to go for a walk… under the guise of exercise but she knew that really I just wanted to go out and capture Pokemon.  Now we get into the larger problem of Pokemon Go right now… the servers and uptime.  For most of the day yesterday things were crashing in spectacular ways, likely because Niantic was simply not ready for the crush of folks who like me decided to bypass the silly region lockouts.  This immediately started a ban rumor floating around that anyone who downloaded the APK was going to get banned from the application.  Yet in all of the threads I never saw anyone reporting anything other than normal intermittent service issues.

Screenshot_2016-07-06-13-56-40Pokemon Go is a deeply connected application.  Not only do you need to stay in fairly constant communication with the Niantic servers over what I am guessing is some sort of a Web Service call… you also have to have unfettered connectivity to GPS satellites in order to keep your positioning true.  This means two things…  namely that gameplay can be unpredictable, and that your battery will weep in misery at the drain.  When I went out to lunch I had about 85% on my battery… and after about an hour of running errands and capturing Pokemon I was sitting around 52% if I remember correctly.  Ingress players are notorious for carrying a bunch of portable battery packs just to make sure that their gameplay is uninterrupted and truthfully that is probably going to be the standard operating procedure with Pokemon Go as well.  So in the middle of my walk last night I encountered a Fearow in the grocery store parking lot.  When I went to try and capture it however I threw the ball… and the screen locked up with the ubiquitous spinning Pokeball icon in the left corner of the screen working madly on trying to reacquire a signal.  I finally had to shut down the application, and reboot my phone… to restore any semblance of connectivity… and even then when I got to the PokeStop outside of my Neighborhood I couldn’t actually retrieve anything from it.  While the game has launched officially now… it is very much not without issues.

However what exists is extremely awesome.  For me Pokemon was always a game about capturing interesting critters, and the combat and story always took a backseat.  When I caught all of the available Pokemon in an area I stopped caring about it and simply wanted to move on to the next area so I could see fresh critters.  For me… this game is likely going to be crack, but also going to be an excellent excuse to get out of the house and walk around my neighborhood.  Where I work downtown there are a couple dozen different PokeStops within easy walking distance so more than likely I am going to start venturing out at lunch to go find them.  What is disturbing is the level of saturation this app has already gotten.  There are four or five different gyms located in downtown Tulsa, and by noon yesterday when I went out to run errands… each and every single one of them was already claimed by a player.  Now these might be beta players or “Beaters” as the community has taken to calling them, but it might also be folks like me who grabbed the APK and just started playing.  There are so many aspects of the game I can’t really talk about yet… because I have not experienced them.  There is apparently a whole team mechanic that will happen at some point, but as I am sub level 5 that is not something I have encountered yet.  I do plan on going Team Blue, and I believe that is where the rest of my friends are leaning as well.  In any case… if you have ever loved Pokemon I suggest at least checking it out.  I have this feeling that it will be something I obsess with for a few weeks… and then never touch again…  much like the other Pokemon games I have played.  However it does at least make walking and running errands a far more interesting experience.

Malfunctions and Malthael

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Technological Betrayal

Yesterday was a really strange day, for several reasons.  Firstly I opted to take the day off since the week as a whole had been one of the worst in a very long time.  The summary can be that the project from hell…  went to hell.  During the course of the last two years, it has been common place that the vendor has invented new requirements on a regular basis.  For example in a meeting on Wednesday they produced a network diagram of how the system should be designed…  that would have been nice to see roughly two years ago when the project started.  As a result it was once again up to us to save the day and try desperately to make things function.  Over the course of 45 minutes I threw up a brand new reverse proxy server and configured a dozen or so redirects to get things functional again.  It was all for naught however… because even with things configured their application was still failing to function at an acceptable level.  So as a result the big launch was scrapped and we are now trying to regroup and decide when exactly the vendor application is working well enough to try this again.  Essentially I know exactly how the Healthcare.gov team felt when vendors failed to provide a fully functional product.

Yesterday was supposed to be a chill day that I stayed at home, worked a little bit… and overall relaxed but that was not apparently in the cards.  I woke up to find my cellphone locked beyond reason.  I pulled the battery and it began a pattern of locking up after 10-15 minutes of usage.  I tried uninstalling everything that was not critical, but the error message I kept getting was that TouchWiz was failing, that being the default shell of Samsung phones.  I tried booting into recovery mode and clearing the application cache, and eventually I was left with only the thermonuclear option of resetting to factory settings.  So I hurriedly started shifting all of my authenticators to running off of another device, and in several spurts of pulling the battery to reset the device I managed to use it long enough to do that.  I held my breath, and hit the button resetting the device….  which actually took far less time than I would have thought.  The thing is… all of the important stuff on the device other than the applications gets backed up to google drive, and all of my pictures to the google photos site.  In theory I didn’t lose anything, and the moment I logged into my google account it started downloading everything that I had on my device before and restoring the application states.  In any case… resetting a phone is not something I would want to do often because it caused more anxiety than just about anything I have done period.  There are basically three devices that need to function for me to be happy…  my phone, my laptop, and my gaming machine.

More Adulting

The other major problem of the day was our primary cable box.  We have the in home networking thing where all of the cable boxes are supposed to talk to each other, allowing us to record programs and watch content from the DVR from any room with a box.  This has not always worked as intended, but lately it just hasn’t worked at all.  The first symptoms were that we could no longer access the DVR remotely, then could no longer schedule something to record.  There have been a few situations where the box itself did not come up cleanly after a power spike… and I had to hard reboot it a few times.  Yesterday I attempted another one of these reboots hoping to clear up the problems, and what I got instead was a dead box.  I am extremely lucky in that I have a friend that I have known for years, that is a developer for the cable company.  So with his help we tried a bunch of different things to troubleshoot the problem.  The behavior that was happening is that after a hard boot it would throw two error codes Er:54 and Er:55 then start counting from H0:01 to H8:00 ish, and repeat that over and over forever.  This happened once before and I let it sit like this for an entire day and it never recovered on its own.

Essentially what this is a sign of if you ever see this on your own cable box is that apparently it is trying desperately to dial back home.  The H001-H800 is it cycling through frequencies from 1 mhz to 800 mhz trying to find a channel to communicate on.  It has to dial home for it to be able to do a health check and make sure that the software is up to date.  So until it finds a signal it won’t actually boot into the cable box software.  Now on the cable side my box was showing as being a “non-responder” so for whatever reason, the communication framework inside the box was unable to talk… and essentially the box itself was dead.  I unhooked the box and brought it to the local office, roughly a mile from the house and I have to say I am super impressed.  They scanned the barcode on the back of the unit and walked into the back and handed me a new one with really no questions asked.  Took it home, hooked it up… and at first I was only seeing the standard definition channels.  I had to call into the main office and they sent some signal to my box that caused a reboot and after that everything was back to normal.  I guess the box had been dying for awhile, because everything is much more responsive on this one with relatively no menu lag.  I seriously think I am one of the few people in the country who actually loves my cable company, because I have had almost nothing but good experiences with them.  At the very least I have had nothing like the horror stories I have heard about Charter, Comcast or Time Warner.

Diablo Day

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The focus of yesterday however was that Diablo 3 Season 5 started at 5pm pst, and that was pretty much the only thing on my mind all day long.  I am not sure what it is about Diablo season play, but it makes the entire experience more enjoyable for me.  It gives us all a reason to start from scratch and re-experience all of the aspects of gearing up and learning everything all over again.  There were a few hiccups at the beginning of the evening, right around the official launch time… but I assume those were all related to server load.  I was able to use the new Rebirth function on my Crusader, but I had to log out and back in for it to take.  Once we all managed to get in game four of us started a group and spend the majority of the evening rolling around together in a glorious murderball.  At some point Ashgar dropped out and a little bit later Mor did was well, which ended up changing the group comp to include Carthuun and Grace’s “Precious”…  otherwise known as the Kraken by the AggroChat folks.  It was awesome to get to meet him and have him on voice with us.

We spent the majority of the night doing bounties and quite honestly that feels like the fastest way to level.  We started playing at 7 pm my time… and I finally tagged out of the group around 10:30 and in that amount of time minus a few breaks I pushed from level 1 to 55ish.  Today once I wrap this blog post up I will be back to working on my Crusader, and trying to decide what abilities I actually want to use.  The problem with running around with three Wizards is that I always feel like I am way too slow to keep up.  As a result I had to generally focus on movement abilities to try and keep ahead of them.  Towards the end of our play session I started focusing on the few ranged abilities that the Crusader has, but regardless of what I do there will be no way I can really compete with the sort of damage that disintegrate throws out.  The other side effect of my build is that I am focusing on some of the crowd control effects that I have like the flail whip that stuns, and judgement that is a big targeted AOE stun effect.  The idea is that I am trying desperately to “tank” the stuff while the wizards burn it to death.  I think the thing I like the most about Diablo seasons is that we hit it hard and heavy for a few weeks, and feel like we accomplished something…  only to move on to other things until the next season comes along.  It gives me the feeling of a new MMO launch, over and over… which for me really is the best part of an new MMO.  That moment when all of your friends are super focused on the exact same thing for a period of time.