Bel’s Big Adventure

Posting Late

Today I am getting an extremely late starting in getting my “morning” blog post out there.  At this point it is almost 2pm as I sit down to write this.  There are a lot of reasons behind that, in part because video takes a really long time to render.  Not to mention the fact that somewhere between streaming and now we also went out and ran errands.  Blaugust is alive and kicking and I am still shocked and amazed at the turnout.  My wife has even spawned her own version of it within the Math blogosphere without really meaning to.  I think it is pretty awesome when the spirit of Blaugust spreads to communities that were not a part of the first year.  As of this morning I had eighty four bloggers signed up and tracked on the list I am keeping.  I am still trying to catch up on day one honestly because that many blog posts…  is an awful lot of reading.  This is absolutely an amazing problem to have.

If everyone managed to make it through the entire month with a post for every day… that would mean 2604 posts pending we don’t keep picking up more people along the way.  This is really the idea is to get out there and get started on creating more content for our community.  One of the things that keeps coming up from time to time is how blogging is dead, and I love it when we can prove every single one of those naysayers wrong.  There is something magical about putting your thoughts on the page and sharing it with the world.  For me personally it is deeply cathartic to share my thoughts and feelings.  Over the years I have learned to open up more and share more of myself, and as a result my bonds with my fellow bloggers has gotten stronger.  In many ways this community that you are part of is a big support group, because every time I have struggled there has been someone out there to help pull me back to my feet.

Bel’s Big Adventure

javaw 2015-08-02 08-57-29-15 There has been a thing I have wanted to do for awhile.  Some of my favorite Minecraft video series have been adventures with a very simple premise around them.  When I play Minecraft however I tend to be a base builder.  I craft these extremely intricate underground structures, and never tend to move around much as a result.  As a way of combating my instincts, I am going in a completely different direction and starting a series of videos called “Bel’s Big Adventure”.  The idea is simple… only keep what I can carry in my inventory and keep moving North.  Each time I make camp and reset my spawn point by dragging along a bed, workbench and a furnace.  Each day I have to find the resources I will need to make it through to the next day.  Today I streamed for roughly two hours, and I am editing these into smaller videos, the first of which is about thirty minutes in length and involves my hitting the first major obstacle… a big ocean.

The Minecraft version I am using is 1.8 and I am using the GLSL Shader Mod 1.8 combined with SEUS v10.1 to produce the nifty more realistic appearance.  As for the Texture pack I am running Chroma Hills which is known to work fairly well with shader packs.  Finally I have the Mapwriter mod running largely to keep me pointed northward, because it shows an Arrow in that direction.  Other than these largely cosmetic mods I am using the stock Minecraft 1.8.3 that I freshly installed this morning.  It has been well over a year since I last played Minecraft, and as a result there is a lot of stuff in the game that I have not seen yet.  For example… I had no clue that there were Bunnies in the game until I came across a black colored one.  Similarly in what will likely be in episode two I encountered something bizarre that cursed me so that I couldn’t mine anymore.  Most of today has been spent either recording, editing or rendering the video so that I could embed it in today’s post.  Hopefully someone will enjoy it, but if not I at least enjoyed the adventure.  If I find something really interesting in my journey I might stop and set up a more permanent camp in order to explore better.  Since I spent the bulk of my day so far working on this side project, and will likely spend a good chunk more I plan on cutting this post a bit short.  Let me know what you think of this idea, and I am also open to other objectives for me to look out for along the way.

69 Challengers

The Anook Thing

Blaugust is officially upon us, and with it comes a deluge of people posting to the Nook.  I just wanted to take a few moments to highlight a few things as far as that goes.  First off Lonrem made an awesome post on how to get the most out of posting on Anook.  Also of note the very awesome Green Mushroom aka Void has been creating forum posts each day to collect the various daily posts.  This is a pretty great idea as it makes it easy to read everything that has been happening for that day in one place.  While this is amazing idea I also highly suggest that you advertise your post separate from this forum thread.  The Anook Community prize is going to be solely based on how many hearts various posts get from the Anook Community as a whole.  Our forum is a great place for collaboration and communication with other Blaugustians, but the only people that will actually see it are people who are following the nook.

Basically you have two options to make a post see larger circulation.  You can either create a blog post on your profile page, which will allow you to attach images and keywords as well as associating it with a game.  This however takes some time, and feels a little repetitive when you are already writing a separate blog post.  What I tend to do however is to click through to the Blaugust Nook, and at the top of the screen is a box that says “Share What’s on Your Mind”.  Generally speaking I open this box, link to my blog post… write a quick blurb about the post and then associate it with a game.  This will create a post automagically shared with the Blaugust nook and also associated with the individual game nook.  From there if you so choose you can click the Megaphone icon to share it with any other nooks that you might think would be interesting.  My key problem generally is that I tend to write posts that cover multiple games… which makes it really hard to determine which to associate it with.

69 Challengers

At the time I am writing this Saturday morning… we currently have 69 Challengers.  As we went on through the month last year we picked up steam, so that at the end of the proceedings we had fifty people who had either participated or won the challenge.  I am completely blown away by the support I have seen thus far, and I am amped to see what the end of the month will see our numbers at.  I have to admit there was a period of time when I didn’t think I would do Blaugust again.  For some people it was this amazing experience, and others… it ended up causing them to take several month lags in their posting.  The last thing I wanted to do was contribute to bloggers…  not blogging.  However as we got closer to August this year more and more people asked me if I was running it again because they were really getting excited.  At this point… I am absolutely happy that I did because apparently this challenge strikes a primal chord with folks.  The happiest moment however is that I am watching it branch out of my little circle of blogger friends and helping to discover brand new circles that I didn’t even know about.  I think we are going to have really great things happen this month.  Now…  for the updated list of participants as of Day One.

Returning to Norrath

EverQuest2 2015-07-31 18-21-14-24 As I mentioned during the Games of the Week post, I plan on diving back into some of the games I am linking to as well.  I am mostly focusing on free to play games, that have no barrier of entry for folks to pop in.  That said however… as I delved back into Everquest II last night…  I had a barrier of entry.  It turns out that the time locked progression server Stormhold is for subscribers only, so for the moment… I am once again subscribing to EQ2.  This has always been one of those games that I have had rose colored lenses for, because I have this deep connection to Norrath.  In many ways it was my first MMO World, because in truth… Phantasy Star Online doesn’t really count when it comes to the whole “rich lore driven world” aspect.  It had been since March 2014 that I had poked my head into Everquest II, which is a bit of a long absence for me.  This is one of those games that I have tended to play every few months, and in spite of having it installed I really have not given it much loving.  I have to say…  maybe that was for a reason.

In many ways this game is a time capsule locked in a different graphical era.  I’ve never been a fan of the “new” models that they released in an attempt to sell the game in Asian markets, but I have to say the original models look extremely dated at this point.  It isn’t so much the models as the fact that they are animated so poorly as compared to modern titles.  I guess in the time I have been away I have gotten accustomed to the way the other worlds looked.  In truth this game ties back to a time when the fact that we were playing online at all… was miraculous and as a result we simply accepted that a lot of things didn’t look nearly as clean as the console counter parts because we were getting huge worlds to explore.  Another thing that nostalgia does is makes you look back upon experiences as better than they actually were.  I remember having all of these fond memories on the Isle of Refuge…  but unfortunately the act of playing through it again is something entirely different.  The later start zone experiences work so much better than the Isle, and I found the whole experience of leveling through it again to be cludgy and annoying.  Even worse was the transition to Freeport, because quite honestly I am not a big fan of the redone versions of Freeport and Qeynos.  I miss the small dungeon zones attached to Freeport as way of leveling through to 10 and being able to survive the commonlands.

For the time being I am running my Iksar Shadowknight just outside the gates of Freeport in the Commonlands, and I am able to take down level 9 and 10 mobs at level 6.  My working plan is to grind my way to 10 and then start questing in the commonlands proper again.  The problem being…  I just ran out of drive to make this happen last night.  I finally logged into Final Fantasy XIV and worked on my hunts there instead of continuing the leveling process.  Another thing I had forgotten, is just how slow the leveling curve in EQ2 used to be.  Getting to 10 is going to feel like a significant accomplishment, since I am not dual boxing this game the way many other people are.  Basically this time locked server experience is reminding me that you can never actually go back home.  You change and your home changes… and things are never quite the same.  I still had some fun poking my head into Norrath again, and if I can get over this hump I think I will enjoy myself again as an “off night” game when I am not feeling like much human interaction.  I have definitely been going through one of those slumps lately, where I am perfectly fine to chat with people over twitter but somehow grouping up and doing content together just seems to taxing.  I need to get past this however because I need desperately to cap Esoterics this week.

Blaugust Games of Week – Week 1

Pre-emptive Thank You

Yesterday I freaked a lot of people out by calling it the Blaugust Eve.  As I have explained on twitter, I was accounting for my amazing time travelling Aussie and Kiwi friends for whom… right now IS the start of Blaugust.  For the rest of us at the time of posting this we have a little more wiggle room before the festivities kick off.  I have to say last year was an insane ride for me, as much as it was for the contestants.  The intent was to run everything through the Blaugust Nook but that didn’t exactly happen, and it quite literally made my life hell.  I ended up spending a couple of hours a day trying to sort out who posted what when and in what time zone they were posting from…  and then the people who posted after midnight in their own time zone…  only served to add to the complication.  There were numerous times I tried to track down people on twitter or IM to ask if they meant X post to be on Y day or not.

This year it seems like most everyone has registered on the Nook which is going to help, but what is going to be even more important is advertising your daily posts there with the day number you are intending it to be.  On your side that is a small amount of work, but on my side that is saving me literally hours of scouring… and is hopefully going to allow me to actually read blogs during the course of the event.  As soon as things start I have to flip into book keeper mode, and while I might be “reading” posts I was not necessarily enjoying them last year because of all of the technical foibles.  So I am thanking you ahead of time for complying with the list of rules, because it is going to make my life not horrible over the next thirty one days.  I’ve been a fan of Anook for awhile, so much so apparently that yesterday someone thought I worked for them.  I just think they do a great job of giving me guild forum like functionality but also giving the ability to interact with other gamers.  I am amped this year about them sponsoring the Community Award, and we will ultimately sort out the specifics of that as the event goes on.

Games of the Week – Week 1

Yesterday we launched the writing prompts forum, and I thought it was pretty amazing that Void spent a good chunk of the day yesterday populating it with a bunch of ideas.  I plan on adding a new writing prompt to this post every day during the course of this event, but I wanted to go a little bit further.  Nothing makes more interesting posts than exploring a new game, or revisiting one that you have been fond of in the past.  As such I plan on highlighting three free to play games a week, with an attempt to mix up the styles a bit.  My hope is that if you are lacking inspiration, you can download and install one of these games and find plenty of things to write about.  Lets get on with the games!

Dirty Bomb – Nexon/Splash Damage

dirtybomb This is a game I played a bit in beta but have not really played much after it officially launched, and I am actually looking forward to playing it some more.  I have long been a huge fan of games by Splash Damage, and I spent many an hour playing Wolfenstein Enemy Territory.  Hell I even joined a competitive clan while playing it, but never really did much more than scrimmage other teams.  Splash Damage creates a shooter quite unlike anyone else makes, and they tend to focus on these complex objectives that require multiple classes of players to complete them.  I always focused on the “Engineer” archetype because it made the game play more enjoyable for me as it gave me a higher purpose.  I am not big into “death matching” but I loved rushing headlong into a firefight trying to stay alive long enough to build a bridge or repair a tank.  This game is the logical extension of Wolfenstein Enemy Territory, Quake Wars Enemy Territory and even to some extent the critical failure Brink.  I think I am one of the few people out there that wholeheartedly enjoyed Brink, and lately I have been feeling the itch to play some FPS action… and Dirty Bomb seems like it is going to fit that bill perfectly.

Download From SteamDownload From Nexon

Everquest II – Daybreak Games

EQ2_000008 I will always hold a special place in my heart for Norrath, the setting of the Everquest universe.  When World of Warcraft launched I was torn because part of me wanted to be playing Everquest II.  Instead I went where the bulk of my friends went, but continued to periodically visit the setting of EQ2 throughout the years.  It has some of the best world building I have seen in any game, and the scope of the zones just feel so massive compared to almost anything else on the market.  They innovated in so many ways, and had so many rich systems like one of the best Mentoring systems out there for the time.  As the years have ticked by the game has felt more and more like a dated relic, however there is a simple nostalgic charm to it that I still find appealing.  They seem to be banking on taking this nostalgia to market, as they have opened a time locked progression server allowing players to go back and experience the world as it was during the early days.  This is making me seriously consider re-rolling and starting fresh on this new server, but I have had so many other competing goals that I just have not done it yet.  My goal is this week to roll a character and check it out, but unfortunately that means I am going to have to buy a new character slot on my already loaded account.  If you are looking for a world loaded with inspiration… this is a good place to start.

Download From SteamDownload from Daybreak

Marvel Heroes 2015 – Gazillion

MH_SCREEN_042314_013 Another game that I really enjoy but find myself not playing a lot of right now is Marvel Heroes.  This game provides Diablo II style game play, with a rich class based system in the form of all of the different heroes that you can play.  One of the coolest features of this game is the way that the you pick your first hero to level.  The game allows you to play a long list of champions to level 10, and then you get to unlock one of them and take it all the way to level 60.  This gives you plenty of time to get a feel for how they each play and their different abilities.  I personally tend to be a Captain America player, but there are heroes that fit just about any imagined play style.  The other thing that I really appreciate is the way that for the most part, the game gives me a pathway to unlock the things that I might want without hiding it behind an overly painful grind.  Champions are purchased with Eternity Splinters which drop fairly frequently while doing content in the world.  One of the complaints I have seen from friends is that the game play is extremely easy, and this is absolutely the case while you are playing on normal mode.  However after defeating the main storyline you can ratchet up the difficulty  much in the same way as you can in Diablo 3.  This is absolutely a really fun game and the freemium nature is not egregious in any fashion, so if you want some old school Diablo game play with MOBA inspired style character design…  you might check this one out.

Download From SteamDownload From Gazillion

Daily Prompt

Since I more or less posted a series of games that I have some connection to, or would like to have a better connection with.  The writing prompt for the day is somewhat connected to that.

What game that you are not playing, do you still have a deeply nostalgic connection to and why?

Let us hear what game you keep returning to even if you aren’t really actively playing it… or likely will never play it with quite the same fervor.  For me personally that game is absolutely Everquest II, and I still hold a torch for it even though at this moment I have not really played it over the course of the last two years.

Twas Night Before Blaugust

It’s Almost Time

I know I have said this many times… but I have to say it again.  I am completely overwhelmed by the amount of support I have gotten for the path of madness known as Blaugust.  As of this morning when I compiled the list I will be posting shortly… we had 47 people signed up on the Blaugust Nook.  I absolutely suggest that you get out there and mingle with your fellow Blaugustians, because you are all embarking upon a mission together that will be challenging for many of you.  There is a shared spirit of struggle that binds us all, in our mission of creating thirty one days of content.  These events that we hold serve to galvanize our community, and create cohesion where it may or may not already exist.  More than anything however… this event is about tricking each and every one of you into realizing that you can in fact write content on a schedule.  Inspiration is a fickle muse…  but I am here to tell you that you don’t need her anyways!

The Blaugustians

Victor_Tour Without anymore rambling on my part… I introduce to you the challengers in the second running of the Blaugust games…  may the content ever be in your favor.

This is a pretty damned impressive group of blogs if I do say so myself.  During this years Blaugust I will be taking special note for the folks who also competed last year and will be coming up with some special recognition for repeat winners and survivors.  Remember it is not too late to join in the madness, and you can sign up on the Blaugust Nook thread at any point during the month and play catch up.  Lets make this the best Blaugust yet!

A First Prompt

What are you hoping to get out of Blaugust this year?

To make things a little easier on the Blaugustians I will be providing a writing prompt each day during the month of August in my morning posts.  These are of course completely optional, but if you find yourself stuck you can go to the writing prompt thread and hopefully find some ideas.  I highly suggest that we make the writing prompts a collaborative experience, and if you think of something good even if you are not going to use it yourself…  post it to the thread to help your fellow challengers.  I look forward to seeing all of the awesome stuff you fine folks create tomorrow.  I mentioned this yesterday but I also plan on suggesting some games of the week, in case you are struggling to find purpose.  Nothing creates content like your first time experiencing a new game, or even returning to a game you had forgotten about.  That said I don’t really want to roll these out today, but will instead include them in tomorrows post.

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.

Muscle Memory

Unexpected Happenings

ffxiv 2014-09-14 22-10-22-567 There is a specific moment in my time playing Final Fantasy XIV where I realized that the Cactuar community was something special.  It was the night that we purchased our Free Company house, and all of these neighbors showed up to welcome us to the neighborhood.  Many of those folks welcoming us were from the Howling Moon free company, and over the months of playing I got used to seeing all of these people hanging out at the Marketboard right in front of our house.  Among them the pair that I got closest with was Ayla and Joren Noye.  There were many nights like this one where we did silly things to pass the time between queues.  Then several months ago they disappeared, as did most of the people I had become close with from that Free Company.  I asked around in the guild but no one seemed to know what happened.  It is always hard when friends disappear that you are close with…  but not yet close enough to exchange all of those personal details.

With Heavenward they were back as I had hoped, but started playing a little later than most.  I guess over those months they had some personal stuff to deal with, but I was amped to have them back wandering around in our neighborhood.  Since then at least once a night we exchanged random happy emotes and a flurry of /say conversation as we fiddled with our retainers.  When I got the hint that maybe things were not as wonderful in their guild as they once were, I did the thing that I always do…  offered them a home.  I didn’t really expect them to take me up on the offer, but last night as I was starting my daily hunts… I got a tell out of the blue from Joren.  He told me that things just weren’t the same, and if it was still okay he would like to take my offer.  Needless to say I was absolutely thrilled and delayed a guild dungeon run until they were ready for the invites.  I cannot put into words just how excited I am to have them on board, we may even have to reconvene the council of squishy hats to celebrate.

Muscle Memory

Skyforge 2015-07-25 10-30-27-07 This morning I happened to randomly click through to a re-tweeted blog post from DragonChasers about SkyForge.  On it was a comment from the blogger Jeromai that struck a bit of a chord with me, because I am absolutely the sort of person that would frustrate him.

You know what’s really frustrating to me? People who can do it (whatever it is), but cannot describe or break down or teach exactly -how- they are doing it, beyond “I dunno, I just do it” or “here, just watch a video of me doing it,” or worse, “lol, it wuz easy, I don’t know how come you can’t do it.”

To me, folks who really know what they’re doing can also break down and explain roughly what they’re doing or the tactics they’re using or what they’re keeping track of, even if execution by someone else requires a lot of personal practice.

Sometimes people say that they don’t really know how to explain it, because they don’t want to explain it.  For  me personally I quite literally cannot explain how I do half of the things I do.  Essentially I try and commit as much of the things that I do to muscle memory as I can, so that I can do them… without thinking about them.  So when I tank an instance… I do so many little things that I can’t really break apart the things that I am doing automatically… from the things that I am doing intentionally.  I’ve always been a player that played mostly on instinct and reflex rather than mindful reflection on strategy.  I think this all comes from why I play games.  Ultimately they are a means of relaxation for me, and many times I find myself zoning out into the sublime motion of playing the game without really having to think about it.    This has strengths and weaknesses, and the big problem that I run into particularly is when I have to unlearn my reflexes and replace them with something else.

For example on the Titan Extreme fight in Final Fantasy XIV there is a place where I absolutely have to ignore every instinct I have built up and stop myself from running back into the boss after an attack.  I struggled with that for our first attempts, because I had to commit an exception to the rule to muscle memory knowing that there would be a follow up attack that would kill me if I ran right back in.  The other big weakness is there are so many things that I do on a daily basis that I cannot tell you step by step what I am doing unless I happen to be sitting at the keyboard and doing them.  At work I am awesome at fixing problems and troubleshooting things…  but I am horrible at trying to walk someone else through the process of doing all of these things.  The positive is…  once something has been committed to reflex it stays with you forever.  I fired up F-Zero the other day for likely the first time in two decades… and I still knew every corner and place to use my booster on the tracks and easily got first place.  Same goes for an MMO, I can sit down in front of a game that I have not played in years… and if I set the hot bars up the same way as i had them before I can return to playing the game like no time has passed.

The Final Stretch

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-28 06-12-59-16 My big accomplishment for the night is finally pushing across the line and dinging 59.  I was able to replace the lance that I absolutely hated with this pretty cool one from the Ancient Library dungeon.  This is the point where I realize that I have apparently not run the library as much as I thought I had.  When it came to the level 57 gear, I had most of a set… and apparently do for just about every possible class I would care to level.  The 59 gear however from Library, I have only a small smattering of pieces and next to nothing when it came to lancer gear.  Thankfully I had squirreled away a set of High Quality 58 gear from the quests… since at that point I technically had better gear on my Warrior from running dungeons.  That should more than get me through to 60 before really needing anything else gear wise.  When I hit 60 I have waiting on me a 180 weapon, and a bunch of 170 and 160 pieces that should make up pretty much a full set.

My hope is that I will be able to leap frog to 170 the Alexander requirement pretty quickly.  The thing I need to sort out in the meantime is how to do a better job of maintaining the Blood of the Dragon buff.  The problem that I keep running into is that I will get thrown into a situation where I cannot safely get back to the boss in time to hit either a Fang and Claw proc or Wheeling Thrust.  So my buff drops…  and I have to wait whatever is left of the minute long recast time to throw the buff up again.  I assume that once I hit 60, if there is a situation where I know Blood of the Dragon is about to fall… this is when I mix in a Gierskogul to spend the buff on an attack rather than let it fade completely.  Remember the whole muscle memory thing from above?  I had a previous rotation committed to that swap space… and now have to revise it.  Given some time at 60 I will relearn what I need to do, because honestly I am not looking for the insanity of the optimal dragoon rotation…  but instead looking for something that is “passable”.  I don’t care if I beat our top dps… but I just want to make sure I am not the bottom of the pack either.  I feel like I just don’t have enough of a competitive nature to ever be a truly successful dps player.

Fifty Eight Singularity

Blaugust Update

Right now we are three days away from the beginning of Blaugust, and at this point I am happy with the pre-event response.  If my count is correct, we have 35 different people signed up to do the challenge, and as I remember last year we managed to pick up a bunch of people after the start.  This is a bit of a double edged sword for me at least, because while I am amped as hell to see all these fine folks participating…  I am also realizing that in three days time my casual reading of the internet is over.  I flip into stat keeper mode as I tabulate the posts that folks have made on which day to verify that at the end of the month they have in fact made their thirty one posts.

Blaugust is this strange dichotomy in that for most people it has nothing to do with the prizes that will be handed out at the end.  However since I am offering them as an additional carrot…  I feel like I have to perform my due diligence and keep track of everything.  So as we near the start of this event I am a mixture of anticipation and dread.  My hope is that everyone will include the day they are posting for in their post so that I can easily checkmark off a post on a given day.  I struggled so much trying to reconcile timezones last year, and folks proclivity for posting after midnight but meaning it for the previous day.  I remember Joseph Skyrim was amazingly awesome about always including what day he was posting for, which made the whole Australia thing so much easier.  I think in the coming days I will go back through the list of people who did it last year and determine just how many are repeat participants.  Just giving things a summary glance it certainly seems like there are many.

Finally Alex Four

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-22 21-39-55-23 I am just realizing that apparently yesterday… I did not actually have FRAPS running while playing Final Fantasy XIV.  So that means all of the times I thought I was taking a screenshot, I apparently was not.  As a result you are getting a screenshot from Turn 3 of Alexander instead of Turn 4 as I intended.  For the last several weeks I had been hoping to run Alexander will a full guild group, however last Wednesday we struggled a bit on Turn 2 and only managed to get through Turn 3 before running out of time.  Turn 4 is a huge deal, not necessarily because of the fight… but because the quest turn in at the end of it rewards a Gordian Bolt.  For a little over a week now I have been staring at my 170 ring and grimacing because it was my one sub 180 that I still had.  So the drive to get through Alexander Four was pretty strong for me, because it meant I would finally be able to replace that last ring with a shiny new 190 ring.

Yesterday afternoon I finally got the courage to pug it with zero guidance from the guild, and in truth it was not nearly as painful as I had expected.  Firstly the fourth turn is a blast and is one of the few fights where I find the off tank role far more enjoyable than the main tank.  There is a mechanic that works somewhat like C’Thun’s swallow mechanic from World of Warcraft, causing the off tank and another player to get sucked through a series of tubes into another room.  There you have to burn down a “Doll” add within a certain timeframe before getting pulled back into the main room again.  For me personally this meant rationing my cool downs so that I could survive, but also hoping and praying that I got a heal upon exiting…  because you literally get sucked in back to back if the dps is going too slowly.  There was a bard that each time I got paired with her, which is strange because you would think with all of the recent buffs that would have been a great choice to burn the add.  Anyways… it took about four attempts but we managed to get it.  I did both the main tank and off  tank roles, but like I said I absolutely prefer to off tank it simply because seeing my tiny Lalafell self go flying through the air is hilarious.

Fifty Eight Singularity

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Yesterday I had a decision to make, and I think I hinted at it in my blog post (truth is I rarely remember what I write from day to day).  Essentially I could either grind out all of the esoterics I needed to cap, or instead I could work on my Dragoon.  In truth I split it down the middle and pushed my Esoterics a little higher, before ultimately retiring for the evening to work on the Dragoon.  I ran a course of three Vaults, and still am coming up short in experience to push across the finish line. As a result as I was starting to get more sluggish right before bed time, I decided to do my first Levequests of the expansion.  One of the strange things about Heavensward is that all Levequests come from an NPC in Foundation just up the ramp from the Aetheryte crystal.  This means that the game freaks out slightly when you attempt to accept the port after finishing one.  In the Dravinian Hinterlands it kept dropping me off at the Bigwest Shortstop instead of actually porting me back to the foundation.  This makes me think that the game initially intended there to be Levequest vendors in every zone, but ended up deciding that they wanted to try a centralized vendor in Foundation instead.

The problem being that Fifty Eight still seems like a hellaciously long level, even with the Armory Bonus firmly in place.  I did a grand total of six level 58 levequests, and each one barely made the xp bar move.  However I was able to whittle it down to just enough that I think by doing my hunts tonight I might actually be able to ding.`  The reason why I want 59 so badly is somewhat stupid…  mainly I am tired of the lance that I am using.  I think it looks ugly as shit… but for the single level I am using it… I cannot bring myself to spend the money to glamour it to something more enjoyable.  Especially when I know that I have a level 59 lance waiting on me.  It is at the very least giving me that added push to get the hell out of this level on onwards to the final push for 60.  I have also gotten a little sick of running the Vault.  It was awesome the first dozen times I was in there, but now the music is grating on my nerves.  I also simply think that the Library is a much more enjoyable dungeon, and does not have a death trap of a boss quite the same way as The Vault does.  I still find that final encounter in Vault to be the hardest in the leveling dungeons, and I feel sorry when I see a healer struggling to keep up with the massive room wide damage.  Hopefully tonight will see me dinging 59, and I can move on to more enjoyable pastures.

Om Nom Dance

A Late Start

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-25 16-00-09-11 I am getting a super late start this morning on my blog post… well because things and reasons.  Last night when we finished recording AggroChat, my wife asked if it was time for bed or if I needed to stay up and edit the podcast.  I thought to myself… that bed sounded like an amazing idea and just straight up crashed.  This meant that this morning however I had to rush around a bit and edit the post while consuming breakfast.  Another thing I noticed is that apparently Final Fantasy XIV patched out their idle kick, because I was still standing in there in the middle of the Dravinian Lowlands afk all night long.  I was apparently similarly lazy in logging out from Teamspeak, which meant as folks started trying to pull things together… I went ahead and agreed to tank a few things.

Also I finally got around to doing my Minotaur Om Nom Nom Dance video voice over.  One of the dungeons that you unlock at 60 is the Fractal Continuum which includes a really strange fight.  At face value the Minotaur works just like pretty much all of the Cyclops encounters you have fought to this point.  He alternates between doing a frontal cone attack that you need to dodge and a full 360 degree sweep attack that you also should avoid.  Where it differs however is he will start channeling a group wipe attack, that you can only break… but essentially feeding him a mob.  While doing this he does a goofy little dance of sorts…  which I have taken to voicing over when I tank the dungeon.  This generally throws Grace into a fit of hysterics laughing… so I decided I should really edit together a video of the “dance”.

AggroChat 67 – The Astebreed Show

Astebreed 2015-07-25 12-08-56-63 This week we record yet another AggroChat Game Club game featuring the game Astebreed, which is an interesting mix of strange Anime Storytelling and Bullet Hell shooter. What makes the game very unique is that you are a mech… with a sword as well as your laser weapons. As far as the story goes, I think several of us were equally confused so we rely on Tam to decode it all for us… because he apparently was able to follow it the entire way. We have a lot of conversation about the tone of the game, the boss fights, the controls that may or may not have worked… and the total package.

Since adding Grace and Thalen to the podcast they were not in the initial rotation of AggroChat picks, so we did the most gamer thing ever… and rolled some dice before the show to graft them into the rotation. That means for the month of August Grace got to pick a title and we will be playing the bird dating sim… Hatoful Boyfriend… and Kodra was happier than I have ever heard him be. He loves this game, and drove us slightly mad with it when he was playing it. Now we are going to get to experience this madness for ourselves, and I am willing to bet that Game Club Seven is going to be one of the more interesting episodes of AggroChat in our history.

In Search of Esoterics

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-20 21-02-13-11 I have been a massive slacker this week when it came to grinding Esoterics, and as such am sitting at around 180.  As a result I need a whole bunch today and tomorrow in order for me to have a shot in hell of hitting the 450 weekly cap.  Generally speaking if you log in every day and run an expert roulette dungeon… you can cap fairly easily.  Guess what I have not been doing at all.  Essentially I have just not been up for group content and as a result I have been playing an awful lot of SkyForge in the meantime which is almost entirely a soloing experience for me.  However after dropping a bunch of stress last night, and finishing the paperwork on our impending home renovations I am starting to feel a little less “under the gun”.  Sure I could stress about it some more, but in my mind the decision process is over and now we just have to wait for everything to happen.

I did however have a nightmare scenario run through my mind this morning, that makes me wonder just how they are going to deal with our cable connection while ripping off the siding.  I really hope I will not be without internet for two weeks.  This afternoon my plan is to sit here and grind expert dungeons for anyone who is willing to run them with me, and as a result whittle away my missing esoterics.  I would really like to be able to get that tasty level 200 weapon within the first three weeks.  If not there is always the next two weeks I can cap to make that happen, but preferably I would like to be getting as many as I can at least until I get a few pieces of gear under my belt.  The rest of the time however I am still working on pushing my Dragoon higher and at this point I am still roughly 3/4 of the way through 58.  It kinda sucks to have dueling priorities, because I would really love to get him at 60 and geared so I have other options than just tanking.

FATE Grinding Go!

Home Improvement is Scary

A good chunk of our week has revolved around planning for some renovations around the house, and I have to say the whole process kind of wigs me out.  I have been acting pretty calm and collected because I know it also stresses my wife out…  but I feel like I am wading out into an ocean that I know very little about.  The long and short of it is that we live in a house with wood siding, which is not exactly ideal for the climate extremes of Oklahoma.  Additionally our climate seems to really be a positive environment for termites…  and when we moved in we knew the house had some issues.  Then a little over a year after moving in… we had our first swarm.  We have been on a termite plan since and it has been nearly a decade of having zero activity, but we know there is some underlying damage in the siding, but other than cosmetic issues we had not really had any problems.

That is of course until recently when we during a particularly hurricane like horizontal rain… we had a very small leak in our kitchen ceiling.  After having the roofers out, they thought it was coming in along the garbage edge of siding and up over the flashing.  This is the point at which we first noticed… just how bad our siding really was.  Throughout the course of the week we had numerous contractors out who gave estimates… and we think we have maybe decided on a company and a product.  Right now we are looking at replacing all of the wood siding with fiber cement, which is this crazy stuff that feels like ceramic tile, but looks like wood.  But this means some major money, which has us also sorting out financing options.  Being an adult is an extremely frustrating thing.  We think we have a plan figured out… but even though I know this is something that really needs to be done… it is a massive decision.  I know things will work out in the end, but this whole process is exceptionally stressful for the moment.

CPUCores

I was asked by someone on my steam friends list last night, if this program worked since I had been running it.  I actually just started testing it last night, even though I purchased it long before it showed up on steam.  I do not remember how much I paid when I bought it, but I want to say it was somewhere around the $10 mark.  It promised to improve your FPS by improving your CPU utilization, and  this is something I had been frustrated by in the past.  The machines I use are quad core or six core… and it always felt like very little of my CPU time was actually being used.  At the time I figured what the hell, purchased it… and then got busy messing with other things.  When they went on steam the developer was nice enough to send me out a Steam key as well, and yesterday I actually started testing it.  Is this digital snake oil?  Well honestly… all I can really offer is a heartfelt shrug.

cpucores_wow_without_30fps I did some testing this morning with World of Warcraft which is one of the most poorly optimized games that I have played when it comes to utilizing multiple cores.  Hell lets me honest, the game itself is horribly optimized in general… but my theory was that this game seems to be extremely CPU limited, so in theory if CPU Core optimization would help any game it should help this one.  The above graph is taken from task manager and shows that for the most part all of the cores are running at around the same amount of load and an overall 36% utilization of my CPU.  In World of Warcraft itself I was standing in my Garrison and setting roughly 30 frames per second.  The latest release of CPU Cores features a “CPU Cores It” button allowing you to scan your current process list and apply  the change to an application that is running.  If you look at the graph below you see that with CPUCores turned on, it is now pegging two of my six cores and as a whole the CPU utilization is now 64%.  In game I was still standing in my Garrison but saw a jump from 30 fps to 40 fps… which is not really earth shattering but still not too shabby and is in line with what a lot of the reports seemed to indicate.

cpucores_wow_with_40fps The confusing thing is however… that it seems like CPUCores is only really using two of my six cores.  There are some settings in there to manually override what cores it is actually using to run things, so I figure I will continue to fiddle with it and see what I can get from it.  I didn’t actually record any of my measurements last night, but I saw a bigger jump when using my laptop.  I actually started to see comparable performance to my desktop which was kinda massive.  The general advice in the community is that this is designed for medium end systems to get some additional performance out of them, and that if you already have an extremely high performance system… it is likely not going to do anything for you.  Normally speaking I run Final Fantasy XIV Heavensward on my laptop around 30-40 fps… but last night with CPUCores running I was seeing 60-70 fps which is a big jump.  Laptops are notoriously bad at CPU utilization because they are designed to safe energy whenever they can.  I feel like maybe that is the magic bullet here for using this application, because honestly the results on my gaming desktop do not warrant the purchase.  I largely bought the app because I was curious if it worked, and for the most part it does seem to do something… because a 10 fps increase is still a 10 fps increase no matter how you chop it.  My hope is that over time it will continue to work better and it seems like they are just now starting to try and optimize for AMD processors.  As always… your mileage may vary and I probably would not have paid the current $20 price tag on steam.

FATE Grinding Go!

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So it appears that with 3.0.5 the changes to FATE experience have been noticed by the community.  As I looked at Duty finder it actually scrolled for the first time in a long while, with multiple FATE parties happening in different zones.  I decided to join the train in Dravinian Hinterlands and it seemed like the time spent was worth my time.  I had dinged 58 earlier in the day while running a dungeon with guildies, and after a bit of FATE grinding I managed to get to around the halfway mark to 59.  It is my hope that today I can run some more dungeons and FATEs and make a serious push for 59.  The community seems to have been reinvigorated by the patch, and it is shocking just how good Square Enix is at timing their content.  In the days leading up to this recent patch it felt like there was a slowing down as people finished their Law grind.  Instead now everyone is actively buzzing again as they are trying to get as much Esoterics as they can, so that within three weeks they can get those tasty tasty level 200 weapons.

Skyforge 2015-07-22 23-08-02-51 When I decided that I needed a break from FATE grinding, I opted to pop over into SkyForge and work on finishing unlocking all of the costumes.  After having played the tutorial as every class currently in the game… I have to say they all feel very unique.  You have everything from the mad bomber feel of the Alchemist, to the skill shots of the Archer, to the insane melee flurry that is the Slayer.  The problem is… the three classes that you get to choose from at the start are without a doubt the most generic feeling of all of the classes that I played.  This is rather unfortunate because while I feel it gives people a desire to unlock that class that they really want to play, it makes the initial grind feel meaningless and pointless since you ultimately have to play the lesser of the starter evils to get there.  I feel like this game could benefit from the Marvel Heroes approach to classes, allowing you to play a little of each of them and then after the tutorial choose the one you wanted to unlock.  I feel like eventually they will let us outright purchase these classes, but I have found that option sorely missing from the cash shop.  I would absolutely pay to unlock the Berserker for example or the Slayer…  but since I missed out on the founders packs I have no real way to do that.

Scattered Evening

Orcs Must Die Unchained

SpitfireGame 2015-07-24 06-18-30-01 This morning I am struggling more than a little bit.  The last couple of nights have combined being up fairly late with not really sleeping that terribly well on top of it.  As a result I am significantly more groggy than normal this morning and also more than a little late getting started with the blog post.  A good chunk of this mornings posting time was spent playing the opening tutorial for Orcs Must Die Unchained.  A few weeks back I posted my treatise on exactly what I meant when I said I wanted a PVE MOBA.  One of the first comments came from a friend of mine…  who may or may not work for Robot Entertainment.  He said they were just patching in a new gameplay mode that sounded pretty close to what I was describing.  So yesterday myself and practically everyone I know who signed up for beta…  got into the game and I finally got around to testing it out this morning.

I have to say what I have seen briefly in the tutorial gives me hope that maybe this might fit the bill.  I am going to have to spend more time playing it to really see, but it feels less tower defense and more dungeon keeper which I am okay with.  Granted I did not play Orcs Must Die 2, and I am guessing a lot of the gameplay evolutions come from that title.  The tutorial starts you off playing the sorceress which was a strike against it, but I am sure as soon as I can get my hands on a melee champion I will be just fine.  It seems like there is a lot to figure out as far as trap placement, because I absolutely thought I would stop most of a minion wave… but barely phased them.  There is also an interesting card collecting aspect that allows you to summon specific minions in each “warcamp” which seems pretty interesting as well.  I will spend some more time this weekend playing this to give it a more proper test, but so far it seems interesting.

Astebreed

Astebreed 2015-07-23 18-25-25-16 This weekend is the AggroChat Game Club show devoted to Ashgar’s pick…  Astebreed.  The bulk of my evening was spent playing this and I made it to chapter five before my thumb got sore enough that I wanted to take a break.  I am really really hoping that the game will let me continue where I left off… because I am not really looking forward to playing back through the four chapters to get to the point where I left off.  My opinion of the game is somewhat mixed right now, but hopefully I will get some more play time in before Saturday.  I am not sure how far from the end of the game I really am, but based on some quick googling it looks like the game has six chapters as a total.  The game play has been fun, especially since it lets me win by slashing things to death with a sword…  which is not exactly something that most SHMUPS do.  I wouldn’t really call this a bullet hell shooter, but there are definitely moments where there is a silly amount of stuff on screen that you have to try and navigate.

The biggest positive is the fact that your ship actually has a surprising amount of health.  Usually in a SHMUP you get one or two hits before you lose a life, and in Astebreed you can actually soak up a surprising amount of damage before having to be concerned with death.  Essentially at the end of Chapter 5 I encounter what I would consider the first really hard boss, and quite frankly by that time my thumbs were sore and I was ready to just be done for awhile.  The boss had this super annoying attack that caused you to fly around the screen to avoid it…  which meant you were not putting ANY damage into the boss.  My theory is that you needed to use your missile lock type functionality while flying around to avoid damage…  but I didn’t put in enough attempts to really test this one out.  According to steam I have only actually put in 71 minutes… but it felt like significantly longer.  I did manage to get a very “Bel” achievement called “Too Much Destruction” where I apparently killed 30 of these missile batteries on the boss at the end of Chapter Four.

Scattered Evening

Skyforge 2015-07-23 22-27-16-48 The rest of the evening was significantly less focused, and I think a combination of sleep deprivation and having spent a little over an hour mashing buttons on a controller furiously left me in a bit of a stupor.  I ultimately went downstairs and booted up the laptop, patching things up so that I could do something.  I managed to watch through the first four episodes of the Humans television show, and I am actually enjoying it quite a bit.  It is an excellent mix of creepy and endearing at the same time… and I am happy to see Katherine Parkinson that I know largely from IT Crowd.  I attempted to play some Final Fantasy XIV but ultimately logged out after running a Vault on my Dragoon.  I was feeling super disconnected from the world and my free company, so I slinked off into the shadows and booted up something I could solo without any human contact.  Right now that game is SkyForge, and I spent some time working through another big open area…  and my desire to “complete all the things” is ultimately what lead me to stay up so damned late again… only furthering the zombie like state.

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The strangest thing about SkyForge so far is the fact that I do not have a single person on my friends list.  Even in games that I am only thinking of playing for a few minutes…  I still usually have a batch of people on my radar of sorts.  I think this is a side effect of Final Fantasy XIV being my social game right now… and this being a game when I just want to blend into the crowd.  I am not terribly opposed to having people on my friends list and you can find me there as Belghast Sternblade, but this is absolutely not a grouping game for me right now.  I am enjoying poking my way around and soloing the content, and as counter intuitive as it might sound… I am really starting to enjoy the fact that every mission seems to have both solo and grouping options.  Last night I very much felt like my interaction batteries were completely drained, so I just needed to spend some “me time” while slicing enemies with a sword.  All things considered though the more I play of it, the more enjoyment I am getting out of SkyForge.  It seems like just about the perfect foil to Final Fantasy XIV and does a good job at giving me an option to play that doesn’t require a lot out of me.