Pokemon Go Frustrations

Bad Polling

A few days ago I did yet another one of my super-non-scientific polls about Pokemon Go.  I got far fewer results than I had hoped but in the end got 38 total votes… and you can see the results here.  Ultimately I was curious to see just how well Pokemon Go is doing among my twitter timeline a little over a month after the initial release.  I knew my usage of the app had morphed a bit, and I was curious to see if everyone else had as well.  The slight unfair comparison here however is that with the staggered launch, some folks like most of South America just literally got access to the application.  As always I tried to create a bunch of categories that summed up what I thought of as the possible endpoints… but ultimately missed a few.  The results look something like this.

  • Actively “Catching Them All” Every Day – 11 Votes (29%)
  • Only Playing When You Go Someplace New – 5 Votes (13%)
  • Playing Rarely if you Remember – 10 Votes (26%)
  • Still Installed but not Active – 6 Votes (16%)
  • Uninstalled:  May Check Later – 2 Votes (5%)
  • Uninstalled: Got It Out of System – 1 Vote (3%)
  • Never Tried It: Not For Me – 3 Votes (8%)
  • Never Tried It: Still Interested – 0 Votes (0%)

Now I have no baseline here, because I should have taken a poll like this shortly after the launch, but it feels like that rarely playing number is probably higher than it would have been early on.   For me personally I am in this awkward place of still playing, but not nearly with the same gusto that I once did.  The attraction of Pokemon in the first place is the collection of new and interesting “mon”.  So when I play the actual game I spend most of my time capturing critters either to keep in my own collection or to wonder trade them off just to see what I might get in return.  The first few days of playing Pokemon Go felt like this, with me constantly finding something new and interesting around every corner.  However at this point I have caught 85 of the 150 Pokemon available in Pokemon Go and of that list…  Ditto, Mew, Mewtoo, Zapdos, Articuno, and Moltres are largely just myths at the moment.  That means I have roughly 60% of the 144 that are reasonably available right now.  Even then you have to discount the fact that Mr Mime, Khangaskhan and Farfetch’d are not available to me in the United States, which drops the total of available Pokemon down to 141.  Then you factor in the fact that I am in a Grass Type dominated area and pretty much every Rock and Fire type Pokemon is rare as shit here… and can pretty much only be summoned with a Lure or Incense my total reasonable list of available Pokemon shrinks further.

I Choose You Venonat #257!

What this means in practice is that I end up going weeks without seeing anything new.  Since finding new things is my core reward cycle in Pokemon, it really drags down my desire to keep playing.  There also seems to be a huge gulf that you fall off into after level 20.  I am just shy of dinging 21, but it has taken roughly a month of casual capturing to get me through the level.  I wish the app kept general stats of how many of each Pokemon you have caught because I am absolutely certain that if you added up the number of Pidgey and Zubat caught… they would together be around one thousand… with Zubat making up the lions share of those.  That is the core problem I am having is that I would say at least 60% of the Pokemon that I see on a daily basis… I cannot really muster the care to even try and catch.  This means I still get vaguely excited when I see my hundredth Venonat or Doduo because they aren’t yet another Rattata.  Even then I have caught enough of each to evolve four into Venomoth and three into Dodrio.  The other big challenge that I am having is the extreme heat going on right now, which severely limits the amount of time I am willing to go out hunting for critters.  The heat index the last few weeks has been hovering in the 110s, and that really is not conducive to going out and catching them all.  So instead I am mostly limited to checking my phone quickly when I pull into a parking lot, or on my way walking into work.

There is also still the problem that a lot of the world is a complete and total wasteland with nothing interesting in it.  We talked about this a bit on the podcast, but the game only seems to reward you for going to places literally everyone else is going.  So that means once a hot spot is found, then that becomes the prime real estate that EVERYONE goes to… which only cause the problem to snowball.  There is an open air mall here, and a handful of parks… that are sheer madness over lunch with people hanging out in the cars idling with the AC on near the pokestops that have lures running on them.  The game favors high cellular activity so much, that most of the rest of my area is completely devoid of anything of interest apart from random basepop trashmon.   The other main issue with this is that the game fails to capture the exploration aspect of the original source material.  In Pokemon I knew that going out into new areas, meant that I would be getting a new mix of the available critters.  So simply going over a zone, meant that while I might have 40% of the Pokemon be something I recognize, there would be 60% that were new and interesting.  That simply does not relate to the real world version with Go, because no matter any amount of reasonable movement around my area provides me a significantly different assortment of “mon”.  I can and have traveled an hour in roughly every direction from my home base… and still see exactly the same mix.  This tells me that their “regions” are just too large and generic, and there are not that many valuable sub region feature sets identified.  Oklahoma is a grassy wasteland to Niantic, so for the most part we get exactly the same assortment regardless if we are hanging out at a lake, or in the rocky canyon maze of Chandler Park.

High Pop Zones

I feel like at some level they decided that the games works well in San Francisco and New York… so it must work great everywhere else.  The problem there is the bulk of this country has nothing in common with San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, etc.  Most of the country is not a high population center, but instead a tapestry of smaller cities and wide swaths of countryside.  In those places the experience is miserable.  I have it far better than so many of my friends, but still it is maddening to roam around and see three things on the new “sightings” radar, and none of them are actually interesting.  There are so many reports that Pokemon Go usage is declining… and I can absolutely see it.  The game is extremely fun for the first few weeks, but once the new wears off… if you are not one of those players motivated to go out and capture gyms…  then there really is a constantly shrinking pool of interesting game play.  Right now as it stands they need to seriously adjust the reward systems in this game, and tweak it so that if you happen to go someplace that literally no one has ever gone before…  you should be rewarded with something awesome at the end of that journey.  The game itself is about getting out, exploring and more than anything moving.  Right now I feel like it does an extremely poor job of incentivizing me to leave my house, because if in my walk I only encounter two Pokemon it feels like a waste of my time when I could simply be chilling out and playing some other game.  They need to find a way to reward players for going to big social hubs, but also find ways to make it rewarding for players to get off the beaten path.  As always I am curious to hear your own thoughts.  I didn’t include any screenshots because I always hate trying to integrate in cellular format vertical screenshots into a blog that tends to favor landscape mode.

 

Peak Pokemon

Nothing but Zubats

AWildZubat

There are several news outlets reporting that Pokemon Go has reached its peak and is now starting to trend downwards.  This is zero surprising to me, simply because it would be hard for any game to reach this level of viral saturation… and then somehow manage to sustain it.  There are a lot of factors at play here, not the least of which is our apparent short attention span when it comes to internet fueled phenomena.  That said I personally am still playing it quite regularly, but with a lot less of the reckless abandon.  On my drive into work every morning there are still a couple of parking lots I pop by and check that have given me good finds in the past.  However I am largely not doing the evening walking thing, because we have had a streak of 100 degree days with some silly humidity going on.  Whenever I stop anywhere however I still habitually whip out the phone to check if there is anything interesting around.  I’ve made several trips to local hot spots in a constant search of something new.  The game however has a lot of problems standing in front of it, and I believe that they more than anything are what is standing in the way of player retention.  The truth be told, I feel like we are at a point of being rolled out to every market that really makes a difference, and that was probably never the intention… or at least not this soon.  However the social pressure of players wanting to play desperately, and being willing to find other ways to do so… meant that if they did not push to other territories that they were ultimately losing their shot at that income stream.

The biggest problem with this game is that the experience is not equitable.  I count myself lucky that I work in a town of 500,000 and live in a metro area of roughly 1 million.  That said other than a dozen “hot spots”, Tulsa seems to be a wasteland of Pidgey, Rattata, Weedle and oh so many Zubats.  When you get out to the suburbs where I live, even those seem to be few and far between that when I go on a walk I am catching them more out of a sense of boredom than any desire to actually waste the pokeballs on them.  Similarly I get excited when I see the next tier of “mostly trash” Pokemon in the form of the Doduo, Caterprie, Venonat, and Spearow because it breaks up the monotony of an ocean of Pidgey candy.  I said that I count myself lucky, because as miserable as it is to go a week without seeing anything interesting… I am still sitting just shy of level 20 with 76 Pokemon caught and 77 seen.  Thusfar “the one that got away” was a Dratini that I lost due to the once super common “pokeball lock up”, where the screen would freeze on catch and you had either caught the Pokemon or not, but had no real second chance because you would have to restart the app to get control again.  The folks that are in really dire straights are those who are unlucky enough to live in rural areas.  I know when I have traveled to various small towns here in Oklahoma I have seen nothing but the regular assortment of random trash Pokemon, even surrounding Pokestops.

Servers On Fire

Another huge problem up until this point is that the servers have been anything but reliable.  Another way that I am extremely lucky is that I have a wife who is super understanding about my desire to go hunting invisible creatures.  She has suggested multiple times that we take road trips to check out other areas and see if maybe I can get far enough out of our zone to find something new and interesting.  The problem there is that until this week you never really could rely on the servers actually being up at any given moment.  It is impossible to tell the difference between what is just the servers on fire from usage, and what is Niantic actually performing maintenance.  The reason being that the company behind this game seems to think the best policy is zero communication with their customers about basic up time information.  So the one time a few weeks back when we actually decided to take a road trip, the servers looked fine when we left our house.  Then by the time we actually reached our destination I could not catch anything without getting a string of constant application lockups due to the servers not responding.  I went to a park that I thought would be loaded with Pokemon, and ultimately it was… however after trying to catch four things and getting four pokeball lockups, I gave up and headed home frustrated.

Now when I say that the experience is not equitable, I think it is worth mentioning the experience that the faction of AggroChat is having up in Seattle.  They seem to have a cavalcade of hot and cold running Pokemon all of the time.  Tam apparently lives across from some park that is an absolute hot bed of activity in the evening, and while we have those here they are nowhere near my house, and would be horribly awkward to drive to at 9/10 pm at night.  Here in Tulsa there is a reddit that keeps tabs on what folks have seen and caught… and I know in Seattle they seem to be regularly catching things that we have never seen.  So ultimately I feel like they need to tweak the base population to be a little more fair, and a lot less based on cellular activity which was the case with Ingress.  I am sure this game is a phenomenal experience in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Seattle, and Chicago…  but significantly less for those of us stuck in smaller population centers.  So if we have reached “Peak Pokemon”, I feel like a good chunk of it comes from the frustration of wanting to play… and when you finally can keep connected to the servers, the only thing you see are the same critters you see everywhere.   My kingdom for a Vulpix or I would quite literally wet myself if I probably saw a Pikachu or a Charmander.

Still Playing

All of this said… I am still very much interested in this game.  The part of Pokemon that I enjoy the most is roaming around and catching new things, and for the most part this app lets me do ONLY that.  However at some point I am going to get bored with the assortment of common and slightly less common Pokemon that I can regularly find here.  I caught a Machoke on Monday, and that had been the first new wild Pokemon I had seen in over two weeks.  Most of the new finds I am getting, are through sheer brute force evolution of less common critters.  For example I got an Arbok yesterday, by finally getting enough candy to evolve and Ekans.  While in part I am happy to tick off another checkbox in the Pokedex… I would have far rather seen an Arbok in the wild, or a Seaking, or a Gloom… or the countless other evolutions I have finally gotten enough candy to do.  I am admittedly jealous of the folks who live in active enough areas to see that sort of stuff in the wild, without actually resorting to making Pokemon Go into a lifestyle.  Sure there are folks that have been hanging out at the handful of hot spots every single night here in Tulsa, and I am certain they have seen some pretty awesome stuff.  However what I am looking for is a game that I can play in the times between going and doing other things, and for the most part this game fits that bill awesomely.  I am just hoping that at some point they give me something more interesting to see than another Rattata.  Right now my app is telling me that I have caught 660 Pokemon, and quite literally I figure at least 300 of those have been Zubats.  Largely I am just hoping at some point the game changes in a way that makes me still have hope that I will find something interesting in the wild.  That is a huge part of what has nerfed my nightly walks is knowing that a trip around the neighborhood is maybe going to get me a couple Pidgeys, a Rattata and if I am super lucky an Eevee.  I am curious what your own experiences have been?  Are you having much luck “catching them all”?

 

Zubat Infestation

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So Many Zubats

Screenshot_2016-07-11-13-50-05I’ve slowed down a bit on the Pokemon Go namely because it is getting harder and harder to find new ones.  At this point I have captured 49 different critters out of the 52 I have seen, and I’ve noticed an extreme deficiency in the number of electric, fire and plant types.  I’ve spent my lunches roaming around to other areas of town, attempting to sort out where they might be hiding.  I would assume that plant types could maybe be found in a park, but as far as Electric and Fire types…  I have no clue at all.  The single Fire type that I have managed to pick up comes from a Chilli’s parking lot… which I found more than a little hillarious.  As far as electric types I have been near the electrical switching station in our neighborhood with little luck, but past that there is really nowhere that streams “electrical types”.  I’ve heard rumors that they often times come out during thunderstorms, but considering we have had several and I have not seen any yet I am doubting that one.  The reality is there are as many rumors for how to find specific Pokemon as there were for how to summon the Ancient Cyclops in Everquest, and I figure none of them are really true.  Given that this is a map based game, in theory everything should be based on some sort of obvious landmark.  Following that logic I keep wondering if I can go to a graveyard to find Ghost types, but I have not been willing to cross that line yet.

The huge truism however is that we have an over abundance of Zubats.  Right now they are way more common than quite literally any other type of Pokemon.  There was a point where I recently had 25 that I had captured and had just been too lazy to hand them in to the trainer.  I’ve made six different Golbats, and now am simply just ignoring the flappy critters when I see one.  Someone has been pretty much chain summoning lures on one of the Pokestops that I walk past on the way in and out of work… and every single time I get within range it is loaded with nothing but Zubats.  As I walk through the parking garage… more Zubats.  All of this is hilarious when I hear from Ashgar that he has yet to even catch a single one.  Then things that are super common for other people like the Oddish…  are next to impossible to find around me.  At some point I am thinking I need to make a trip over to Fayetteville because my friend TangerineDada has all sorts of Pokemon that I have not seen anywhere near me.  Then I ask myself… is it silly to take a road trip just for capturing Pokemon? Almost certainly but it is nonetheless entertaining.

Necropolis

Necropolis 2016-07-12 22-25-23-15

For a little bit now my friend have been talking about Necropolis, a new dungeon crawler from Harebrained Schemes the makers of the very awesome Shadowrun tun based RPGs.  This game keeps getting compared to Dark Souls, but I am not completely sure why the reference.  Essentially this is a rogue-like dungeon crawler with procedural generated levels.  This is the sort of game where you are not designed to get terribly attached to your character, because more than likely you are going to die quickly and often.  Similar to Rogue Legacy it has a mechanic built into the game where your deaths serve a greater purpose in that your actions garner favor with the deity of the labyrinth.  You can then purchase abilities at the scriptorium which tweak your experience allowing you to have more health, or hit harder all in an attempt to fine tune your character experience.  The concept of the game seems right down my alley, and the art style is reminiscent of Journey or any number of not quite realistic cartoon shaded games of late.

Necropolis 2016-07-12 22-08-31-40

The game however has a bunch of problems, that I am not sure if they are intentional or if they are simply bugs that will be patched out later.  Combat feels more than a little bit maddening at times in that there seems to be no limit to the number of things that can be registering attacks on you at the same time.  So this means that if you are unlucky you might round the corner and get six or seven mobs swarming you at the wrong moment.  Normally speaking in brawler type games this is manageable in that the game gives you invincibility frames in the form of being staggered… so that not every thing attacking you can actually register damage on you at the same time.  In Necropolis you can absolutely get surrounded and watch your health go from full to zero in seconds.  However for all I know there might be a scriptorium ability that changes how that works.  The other slightly frustrating thing is that combat feels a little sluggish.  I played with an xbox controller and right bumper is the light attack and right trigger the heavy.  Even light attacks are nowhere near as responsive as I would hope them to be, and heavy attacks require near perfect timing because of the extremely lengthy swing animation.  All of this said…  I enjoyed the little bit that I played and I want to figure out more of the game.  There are two kinds of unfair gameplay… the ones that make you just want to throw your controller across the room, and then the ones that make you want to figure out how to avoid the pitfalls of the system.  This at least for me appears to be the later, so I fully expect to play a bit more tonight and get a bit further.

 

Pokemon By Night

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No Seriously… Walking Simulator

PokemonGoReleaseActivity

Screenshot_2016-07-07-17-23-48I named yesterday’s blog post “Walking Simulator” half jokingly, but after two days of Pokemon after dark…  it is really a truthful statement.  You can look at my activity tracker and see very clearly the impact of the launch of Pokemon Go.  While my wife thinks I am insane, I am however outside and getting exercise without really noticing it.  Last night for example I walked quite literally for an hour without really realizing it.  Sure I had broken a sweat because it was 94* outside, but thankfully there was a nice wind to greet me oddly enough in pretty much any direction.  The best part about this is… I am not the only one doing it.  This is the second night I have gone wandering, and Wednesday night I was really hoping I would not run into server issues.  However for the most part starting around 8 pm the server seemed to be more or less stable, or enough so for me to risk trying to find some of the night spawning critters.  Additionally bolstering that confidence, my friend Void had posted a link to a fledgling server status page for the Pokemon Go gateways.  So with all bars reporting green I ventured out into the world.
I had barely made it into the neighborhood next to mine when I saw a couple walking along staring at a phone…  and a few minutes later I saw the unmistakable action of throwing pokeballs at some critter.  I smiled and held up my phone and they held up theirs as a sign of recognition, which caused a round of chuckles from all of us.  It turns out they too were trying to take advantage of the shockingly good server connectivity and had just managed to catch a Pidgeot.  Unfortunately the critter did not seem to still be around but a few minutes later I found my own rareish Pokemon in the form of a Weepinbell.  I say rareish, largely because don’t know how common this or that Pokemon is… but the pre-evolved forms seem to be significantly rarer than the base forms.  I found this list last night which attempts to list the pokemon caught in beta based on relative rarity.  Which also made me super happy about one of my finds earlier in the day.  For the last several weeks I have been going by after work each evening to water the flowers of a friend of ours while she is out of town.  I had just pulled into the parking lot in front of her apartment and thought… I should probably check to see if there are any cool Pokemon around.  Sitting right there almost literally in the parking space was a Tauros, a critter I had never actually caught in any of the games.  It took a bunch of tries but sure enough a mixture of RNG and finger crossing got me that third little twitch that meant it was captured.

Screenshot_2016-07-07-08-14-53At this point I have seen twenty eight different pokemon, and captured twenty six of them.  I missed a Butterfree on that first lunch outing, and then failed to catch the Fearow Wednesday night due to server issues.  I say not bad at all for two days worth of effort and doing all of this legitimately… aka not using the cash shop items to “attract” Pokemon.  Some things I have learned through hitting Pokestops apparently forty seven times based on the stats kept within the app.  Pokeballs are plentiful… I now have over 140 of them so don’t fret too much about tossing several to catch a single Pokemon.   Potions and Revives are also plentiful given that I have 54 and 36 respectively.  Pokestops also seem to have the rare chance of giving you some cash shop type items given that I have received at least one incense off of a stop, and one of the 3 charge extra incubators that let you keep more than one egg going at once.  Things I have learned from friends is that apparently you can bolster the defenses of a gym held by your team if you place Pokemon on it as well.  Right now the gym in my town is held by the team I ultimately chose, Mystic aka Team Blue.  So on my way out of town this morning I plan on stopping by just long enough to slap that hefty Weepinbell I got last night on the roster.  I have no clue if I will lose said Pokemon or if it will return to me if fallen, or if I can heal it with potions etc.  I do however know that if you hold a gym for your team you can earn pokecoins the cash shop currency as well as other in game items.

The other thing worth talking about this morning is that through a combination of friends and a super helpful Reddit post I finally have a handle on what the tracking system in the game means.  When you click in the lower right corner of the screen you can see which Pokemon are near you.  Each of them will show a number of tracks out beside them with the default seeming to be three.  Number one thing I learned is that the list is sorted in order of distance from you, meaning the ones at the top of the list are closer than the ones at the bottom.  Second thing I learned is that if you click on a Pokemon it begins to track that specific one.  If while tracking your bar flashes, that means you are walking in the direction towards the Pokemon, and as you get closer the number of tracks will start decreasing.  When you eventually get down to zero tracks it should spawn near you, and allow you to try and capture it.  This would have been extremely helpful to know last night as I seemed to be wandering around trying to find one of two Psyduck in my neighborhood.  I will say years of seeing silhouettes of Pokemon have greatly prepared all of us for knowing precisely what might be in our neighborhood based on the outline.  Last night there also appeared a blip of a Tentacool for a bit, but I never found it either.  Hopefully you too are getting out and walking and finding your own stash of critters.  If you are curious what I have actually caught I am for the moment keeping a crappy spreadsheet until I figure out what I want to do properly.

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.

2013 Retrospective

Grand Experiment in Review

2012 was an extremely horrible year for me and at least professionally I would rank it as quite possibly the worst year I have ever had.  I would put it as worse than the year I was out of work for six months after the dotcom crash.  On September 11th 2012 my company suffered what they thought was a network attack, that only later the security guy pulled his head out of his ass and realized it was a regularly scheduled security scan… that he himself authorized.  The results of this was a massive overreaction that caused me and my team to spend the rest of the year and a good chunk of the beginning of this year rebuilding damned near everything that touched the web.  Why did we have to do this?  Because they quite literally pulled the servers out of the racks and sent them to the FBI, leaving us next to nothing to work off of.

So next to that year, this year has seemed like an absolute dream.  However it has been more than that for me.  2013 has been a year of personal growth and exploring new things.  In April when I finally pulled my head above water after the “faux” security incident, I really wanted to make a break back into blogging.  I fell off of the planet shortly after the security event and simply could not bring myself to write about anything.  Coming back I devised what I called a “grand experiment”, namely to blog each and every day even if I didn’t think I had much to write about.  At this point there are 237 posts categorized as “The Grand Experiment”, and without fail I have blogged every day even when it was a struggle to do so.

Has the experiment worked?  Well functionally yes I have managed to blog every day, but more importantly has it provided an interesting stream of content?  Quite honestly I don’t know.  Most of the time I feel like I am a little kid writing to a make believe audience.  When I talk to someone who mentions something I have written… I am always shocked.  I feel like no one actually reads my stuff, that I am mostly just writing it for my own benefit.  People seem to enjoy what I write, and I have a regular stream of readers… but I will never have the type of audience that the bigger bloggers have.  I am just too rough around the edges for that sort of thing.  For the most part I am happy with the results of a year of blogging and my long-term goal is to make it at least one full year of posts without pause.  That of course will be up April 26th of 2014, which seems like it is far in the future right now.  However I don’t see myself losing steam at any point soon.

A Healthier Me

Another big change in my life over the course of 2013 is that I am considerably lighter.  In March my wife and I began to shift the way we relate to food.  I say it in terms like that because really we have completely changed our relationship to food as a whole.  To say we went on a diet doesn’t really encompass the level of change.  Diets are about the short term, but we wanted to make permanent and long-term changes in the way we ate.  Namely we focused on trying to find a new and sustainable way to live.  At this point I am 70 lbs smaller and have hit a bit of a plateau over the last month.  However the fact that I survived both Thanksgiving and Christmas without breaking that plateau makes me happy enough.

My wife on the other hand continues to lose at a steady pace and is now down roughly 60 lbs.  At some point I need to get super serious again, as I have become lax of late.  However the current weight seems to be a place I can comfortable stay without any real intervention.  I have reached my goal and it is time for me in this new year to refocus myself and set a new one.  I will never be a small man, I come from a long line of really big people.  I am however happy enough being able to say I am a “smaller” man.  The thing I was not expecting to be honest were the health benefits.  As a whole I am far healthier than I was a year ago, and the primary benefit is that my Asthma that I have struggled with my entire life… and have even been hospitalized for… is really a mere nuisance these days.  I can go months on a single inhailer, and that is not a thing I have ever been able to do in my life.

Professional Growth

In the last year I have grown more into the role of the manager of my group.  I have learned to delegate more, which is something I have always struggled with in my life.  I was good at accepting assignments, but never very good at passing them on to my troops, instead trying to take them all on myself.  My team is pretty amazing and I would be lost without them.  I guess in some small way I have learned to have more faith in them, and trust that they will do as much diligence with an assignment as I would have.  As a result I have shifted more into the architect role for my group and part-time project manager and full-time traffic cop.  Making sure all of the assignments are going to the right places and all seeing at least some progress.

We usually have 50-60 active projects for a team of three people.  So it involves lots of juggling.  Various forces in my company want me to move up into a permanent management position.  However I simply do not want to distances myself from the “real work” enough to take them.  Additionally right now I am responsible for three extremely highly functional people, and I don’t think I  could cope with being put over less functional people that I would some how have to whip into shape.  I am not really great with confrontations, and as a result I think I would flounder.  Either that or it would be similar to me as a raid leader, and I would turn into a real asshole.  For the time being I think I am happy with where I am and what I am doing.

I Wrote A Novel

One of the things I have always wanted to do in my life was to write a novel.  I made several false attempts at various times over the years but never could seem to push myself to do it.  This November I joined the NaNoWriMo event, and over the course of the month knocked out my first novel.  I have no idea if it is actually any good, because honestly I have not even read it since finishing it up.  I plan in the new year to tear it asunder as I edit it, and fix any issues.  However regardless if it completely sucks, I have accomplished a goal.  I managed to write a novel, and that is a thing most people can’t say about themselves.  I didn’t do it to get famous, or be published, I did it mostly just to prove to myself that I could.

The weird thing about it is, November seems like a lifetime ago.  The whole concept of writing 1500 words per night was just absolutely draining.  My entire life revolved around that novel for those thirty days, which is honestly longer than I have stuck with anything like that in my life.  More than anything I feel like it was a venue of personal growth.  I did a thing I never thought I could, and I did so in a methodical way in which it felt like success was assured from the moment I started.  Sure I faltered a few times along the way, and there were a few days I didn’t write a blessed thing.  However I kept moving forward towards the eventual 50,000 word count goal and I achieved it.  I think more than anything I am proud of this accomplishment from 2013.

A Year of Gaming

This is a gaming blog afterall, so during 2013 I played a lot of games.  I played way more games than I can ever manage to remember, but I will try and run down a few of the big ones.  The list of major titles is as follows.

Oddly enough I am beginning this new year not entirely differently than I began the last year.  January 2013 I was still involved in the launch of Mists of Pandaria, and it was not until April that I really began to distance myself from that game entirely.  World of Warcraft and I have this love/hate relationship.  I get frustrated with it so much, because it seems that they always seem to take the most short sighted solutions to problems, and there are so many games that there that do various things it does…. so much better.  However as a total package I feel like the game is unbeatable.  It offers the most good things in one package.  The realization for me however after my 2+ years of absence from being serious about the game is that it is not about the game at all.  World of Warcraft is about the people playing it, and I had missed the ragtag group of people known as House Stalwart immensely.

The game I probably played the most often during the year however was Rift.  I want to love rift so badly, the promise of the game is really great.  The problem is it just lacks something that I can’t quite put my finger on.  It is a technically superior game in every aspect, but it is like it lacks a cohesive narrative that makes me care about the world every single day.  The dragons were a thing I thought I  could get behind.  But now that we have systematically killed each of them off, I cannot say in a single sentence what the world of Rift is.  I think that might be the problem, there is no one clear narrative to the game.  You cannot say “this game is” and have even half of the people agree on it.  I still play it occasionally and there is still an incarnation of House Stalwart there that Psynister and Fynralyl are keeping alive.  I thank them so much for being there, but I just can’t seem to care about the game right now.  I am sure at some point I will again.

Final Fantasy was another major force for the year.  This was a game I never intended to like because really I feel like me and Japanese RPGs had a messy divorce quite some time ago.  I had a group of friends actively wanting to play it, so against my better judgment I went along for the ride.  What I found however was a really well crafted narrative and dungeon experience.  If I could have kept experiencing new bits of immersive content, I would have likely stuck around.  However once you reached the end of the game, it was exactly that…  the end.  All paths lead to massive amount of grinding, and for whatever reason… while I can stomach grinding all day long in World of Warcraft… I could not stomach the particular FFXIV brand of grinding.  Namely I blame this on the overall lack of meaninful drops in the game.  If I have a chance of getting something cool while killing mobes, no matter how remote the chance… it feels exciting to me each time I open a loot window.  There was nothing that could drop from mobs in the world that I would ever care about.  Additionally gearing up to get to a point where we could raid, was just not a bridge I was willing to cross.

Games for 2014

There has been a game I have been in super secret closed door testing since February.  I cannot name the game by name, but I have to say I am still extremely excited about it even after most of a year testing it.  I have watched the game grow from something that felt polished to something that really is amazingly rich and polished.  I don’t think I will quit WoW this time for another game, because I have set down some pretty solid roots there again.  However I know I will also be playing this game, at the very least two to three nights a week.  It is probably the least wow-like game I have played in a long while, and because of that I feel like there is room in my heart for both games to have a unique space.

Past that I am really not certain what 2014 will hold.  I know that I am not really interested enough to purchase a PS4 or an XBox One, so I think I will be exiting the console mainstream once again.  I am mostly a PC gamer to be honest, and since my gameloft has been taken over by my wife I am okay with not having access to the consoles.  More than anything I am looking forward to the various stores beginning to liquidate their stocks of PS3 and XBox 360 games, so I can pick up the titles I always wanted to play but didn’t have the desire to pay for.  Additionally there are still a lot of things on the DS/3DS that I want to play, and I am looking forward to picking up the newest Zelda game.  I am sure there will be a number of surprises along the way, games that catch my fancy enough to deserve lots of blog posts.

I hope that 2014 will be as positive force in my life as 2013 has been.  Additionally I hope each and every one of you out there can say the same.  My friend @AlternativeChat has declared 2014 the “Year of Faff”, and I am down with this notion.  I think we all need to learn how to faff about in the game worlds we are in, because stopping and smelling the roses is the only real way I know to break the cycle of burnout.  I have tried my best to embrace this concept, and hope to continue to do so in the year to come.  More than anything, I feel like I am sick of jumping games every three months, and I get the sense that the gaming world as a whole is somewhat sick of that as well.  I hope we can each embrace our own faff, whatever that might mean.

Pokémania

Age Gap

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I feel like there is this huge phenomena that I completely missed the boat on.  Even though it was my generation that brought the Gameboy to the world, and I can remember getting one in 1989 it was never a primary console for me.  It was that thing I played when I was on a trip, or more often my younger cousin played when he was visiting.  For him the Gameboy was totally a primary means of gameplay, but for me… it was more novelty than anything else.  The battery life was pure shit, so it was not like you could actually take it anywhere for long periods of time without a large stock of AA batteries to fuel it.

Additionally it made everything you played look spinach green.  There were various big name titles that came out like Metroid II that provided an experience that did not exist on the bigger consoles…. but by that time I had the Super Gameboy and the ability to play these games in pseudo color.  While I bought a Gameboy Advance and later a second hand Gameboy SP they were still more novelty devices for me.  As a result I feel as though I almost completely missed one of the biggest crazes to ever hit gaming.

Pokémania

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I was already well into the working world when the whole Pokémon insanity happened.  It was one of those games that I knew existed, but since I didn’t really play Gameboy much, I had never actually experienced.  My first entry into the world actually happened when the card game was released.  Before it really blew up, it had become something that the card gamer folks dabbled in at my local game store… and I had a starter deck and a handful of boosters.  It was a charming little game, and it played rather quickly as compared to Magic: The Gathering that could often times drag on for ages.

I did not really encounter the Gameboy game until much later, when I played Pokémon Blue on a Gameboy emulator.  I found it a charming game, and quickly became addicted to capturing these little critters, but the experience ended there for the most part.  I don’t think I ever actually beat the game.  Once the novelty wore off I was back to playing my JRPGs on the PlayStation, and traded Pokémon for Jade Cocoon. I likely would have stayed disconnected from the Pokémon experience were it not for MMO games and often times being one of the oldest folks in the raid.

Battle Pets

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A large number of the gamers that I play with on a regular basis are one full generation younger than I am.  As a result… Pokémon was a huge deal for that group.  I can remember talking about WoW Pokémon with a small measure of disdain when it was originally announced, but mostly because I really did not get what is so fun about it.  However when it was released I went from antagonist to addict in no time.  In fact for the first several nights after the release of Mists of Pandaria, I wandered around doing nothing but battle pets.  I have always been a pet collector in MMO games, but being able to do something with them… made the whole experience that much better for me.

The thing is… this also made me realize that this madness called Pokémon totally worked on me.  I began to feel like I had missed an entire experience.  Over the last few months my inner circle of gamer friends have been prepping for the release of Pokémon X and Y, and while at the time I didn’t think much about it… the closer it got to release the more I wanted to participate this time.  I have not owned a Gameboy since the SP, and have completely missed the DS era.  As a result I missed a number of games that I still want to play.  So I feel like I have a significant backlog of games I want to play for it.

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However the big title on the horizon that I would have had to play… was Legend of Zelda:  A Link Between Worlds.  A Link to the Past is one of my favorite games of all time… I put it very close to Castlevania Symphony of the Night… the game that is likely my all time favorite.  I was always a fan of Legend of Zelda, spending countless hours beating the first one.  However, Link to the Past was that game that really proved to me the raw power of the Super Nintendo.  I picked up a copy on my way home from getting outpatient sinus surgery and I played the hell out of it as I recuperated.  When I heard there was a sequel coming to the 3DS I knew sooner or later I would end up with the console.

Taking the Plunge

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Much to the frustration of my wife I am sure… last night I took the plunge and picked up a black/black 3ds XL and Pokémon Y.  My immediate group of friends have been keeping the X and Y thing pretty balanced so I could have gotten either.  Basically for me it came down to the fact that I would far rather have a crazy red and black flying bird with three hands…  than some kind of blue faerie antelope.  Other than that… I really could not tell you the difference.  I played the absolute crap out of the game last night, and spent most of that time catching Pokémon and then trading them off using the crazy wonder trade system. 

This has to be the coolest feature I have found so far.  Basically since the 3DS is an extremely connected device, you can place any Pokémon you do not want up for trade, and receive a Pokémon that another trainer does not want.  Essentially it is the whole, one mans trash is another mans treasure concept… and while I am sure at later levels you mostly get things you have no interest in… starting out I found it to be the source of many Pokémon I was interested in.  I oddly enough ended up with quite a few interesting and potentially rare ones mixed in with the dross.

I still feel a little overwhelmed.  Having never really played a Pokémon game… there are so many things that have changed since my brief experience with Pokémon Blue.  Luckily I have various friends that serve as an almost encyclopedic tome of knowledge about all things “pocket monster”.  They have been helping me out immensely especially in evaluating which things are good and which things are not so good.  I feel like I have a couple of decades of research to do before I even feel like I have a slim grasp on what all is going on.  I am now a proud member of the 3DS era, so I can now add a “friend code” to the long list of other social identifiers I have.