Wednesday, May 23, 2018

May Gaming: Dad of War

This game is awesome, Boy.

Whaddup, Nahmi.
Deadpool is going to have to wait, folks. The lead up to this weekend involved an indie (Cardboard Utopia, Canadian) title called Children of the Zodiarcs, which is a tactics RPG with dice-rolling to remind you that RNG reigns supreme in these kinds of games. Between battles, there is deck building and dice crafting, and Children brings all the best parts of a combat-based tabletop game without the feeling of being locked into a 6-hour game that just. Won't. End...*cough*. The battles last from 5-20 minutes and that's all you need to commit. Mechanics aside, the playable characters are brown in majority, and the dialogue is funny and mercifully skippable if you have to replay a level because your character died :). The music is not a strength, and you might need to grind to your own soundtrack, but the game was also $10, so I can't complain. The aesthetic is neat, the drawn portraits are beautiful, and the change of pace to tactical RPG combat is a relief to balance the shooters I'm playing.

Ohh snap! We in trouble!

Speaking of shooters, I started Wolfenstein 2 and got a solid 2 hours in before I got hopelessly lost, losing my interest in the game, too. There is a map in this game with mission objectives and everything, so it's hilarious that I spent 30 minutes walking in circles, but I just wasn't connecting the dots. Ohh well, I'll try again later! There are priorities...

My friend Aaron broke some wonderful news to me that he'd completed God of War and was ready to loan it to me. After 6 other titles of revenge-driven, violent hatred of those-who-are-bigger-and-meaner, this game's director took a slower pace. I remember God of War 3 ended with a minigame where you repeatedly mash a button to mash Zeus's face, bloodying up the screen until you could only hear the meaty bashing. Don't get me wrong, Zeus was an asshole, and the multi-stage boss battle is pretty engaging and a raging climax for the angry series.

The new God of War follows an old gruff Kratos, who becomes a widower left with his somewhat-estranged son, Boy Atreus. The game starts with the two going about the death rituals of Kratos' wife Faye, and the last thing they need to do is place her ashes at the top of a mountain. On the first mission of training Atreus how to hunt, Kratos is terse with his son as they feel out each others' combat prowess and personalities. Assuming that the other God of War titles are canon, it's understandable that he's not the warmest father figure. He was tricked into killing his wife and daughter long ago, got his revenge, and then again on the dubious gods as the situation was escalated. Between God of War 3 and this one, Kratos settled down again, just to lose his new wife. I am only a few hours into the story, so I'm not sure if the previous titles are canon, nor how exactly Faye died.

That looks...painful.
Either way, as you go about trying to place her ashes on the top of a mountain, the seemingly bleak father-son banter of the excited youth being reminded to control his feelings and mind his surroundings gives way to the characters sharing their grief and eventually bonding. There are plenty of stories that start at a low or sad point that provides the catalyst for plot to get moving, and God of War is no exception. The narrative succeeds by having the memory of a character act as a passive third character who shapes the story every bit as much as the main two characters who are alive.

Gently down the stream, Boy.
The game feels a lot like a cross between Last of Us and Uncharted in terms of gameplay and production design. There is not one cheap texture in the game, all the characters look solid, Atreus' AI is intelligent enough to feel like a real partner. It's also obvious that the characters' relationship takes over the plot in the same way that Naughty Dog games do so often and so well. There is also some researched lore on Norse Mythology that amounts to more than everyone is naked and the gods are selfish that previous titles featured. While exploring, the characters tell stories to each other that are interrupted as soon as you get to an action point, and continued when things calm down. I first saw this in Uncharted 4 and it's a great way to enrich the mundane parts of the game. The combat is a little slower and quieter than the previous God of War games, but has a lot more variance to the attacks and is still really fun. So far, the violence is less visceral than ripping a (demi-)god's head off through a quicktime event as the music pounds.

The newest God of War is such a good experience. While there's no shortage of games powered on male fantasy, the grieving demigod hacking and slashing his way through realms to save the world is augmented by bonding with his son and being a protective father. It's an exciting, immersive experience and this major change to the series is as good as it gets.

Monday, May 7, 2018

May Play

Readers! It's been a busy couple weeks, seeing and then reading Ready Player One, and changing my freakin life with the viewing of Avengers: Infinity War. I'm not going to spoil it more than the fact that I really enjoy good villains, and Thanos was able to capture my attention away from the two dozen personalities that are trying to beat him. Black Panther was uncomfortable because you don't really feel good about the opposing force not winning, just as watching some of the protagonists "succeed" in Breaking Bad isn't necessarily a good thing. Good writing and acting can do that. I'm trying to say that I only just realized in the last few years that just because I'm reading/watching a point of view doesn't mean I have to cheer for them. That said, I cheered for Thanos because I like to sympathize with a good villain. Thanos isn't particularly complicated, but he's strong (and thus cool) and opens the movie with a badass speech. I was hooked.

Totally taken from
I saw it again this weekend and was once again shocked by how insanely violent this movie is. There are tons of kids in that audience watching people get tortured, impaled, slammed, smashed, blown up and simply annihilated, and their parents are more riveted than they are. But we didn't see a titty or hear, "Fuck!" so it's all good for the scores of 5-year-olds that saw that movie, right?

Anyhow, going back to narrative, I'm reminded of how the story unfolds in Metroid Prime, which I finished over the weekend. As you collect the story in fragments through scanning and downloading your oppressors' computer, the narrative turns tone as the Space Pirates react to Samus. As she beats bosses and gains abilities, Samus graduates from a nuisance to a threat to a superior force that the colonizing Space Pirates have to prioritize. This gets to the point of their scientists conducting risky experiments on organisms and throwing the ones that didn't die in some horrible failure at you. I spent the majority of April revisiting this classic, as well as Nex Machina (twin-stick shooter) and Overwatch.

I don't own this photo.
Also, in celebration of May the 4th and Revenge of the Fifth, Star Wars Battlefront 2 did a double xp weekend. This is a huge deal because you actually earn 2.5-3x. I say this because the game is poorly optimized. If you're playing half the amount of games, that's a LOT less time waiting for players to fill the queue, as well as the post-battle tally screen and level loading transition. I understand that managing all the resources for the awesome graphics and sound requires loading time and that's fine. However, the game is built so that you constantly have to return to the main menu to upgrade heroes after they gain levels, and this main screen takes over a minute to load. It's like if every domestic flight in the US were required to pass through LAX, despite being Seattle to New York or something.

There isn't much else to say. I hope set up another themed gaming month in 2018, but there is some non-trophy-hunting I want to do like replay the Final Fantasy XIII games. I've always struggled with story coherence in those games, and would really like to play through without side missions and collectibles and just focus on experiencing the story, the same way I did with FFVI last month. What classics are you revisiting?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tax Day frugal update

Filing taxes presented two challenges this year. The first was finding a service that would do them for free, which required some in-depth searching. The complication for me was that during last year's hard times, I'd sold some of my investments and most of the free services think that this extra form calls for an upgrade to their $40-70(!) premium services. Luckily, FreeTaxUSA stayed faithful to its moniker, unlike the other dopey sites.

The other challenge to paying taxes this year is where that money is going right now. At the city level, when my car was vandalized last year and the thief left blood and a knife at the scene (in an apartment complex with children), the Lynnwood PD took a look, told me that they rarely catch the suspects in these cases, and promptly left. Also, calling the public works department was fruitless in asking if I should be concerned about my orange bathwater. At the state level, the governor punched Comcast in the face with a super-strict net neutrality law, so that's a bonus. Also, Washington state healthcare benefits when I was unemployed were awesome to have and easy to sign up for, so no grudges there. Taxes at the federal level? That was the biggest barrier to not filing an extension or just mailing the IRS a recycled envelope with a photocopy of my middle finger (black and white, of course, it's cheaper.) I don't recommend running from the IRS, but it's hard not to ignore the fact that the highest office in the land won't release taxes (because he didn't pay them,) and big douchebag companies like Apple and Google haven't paid a cent in corporate taxes for years. I'm going to stop there because this blog is supposed to be about frugality, Japan and video games. I'm also simplifying something I don't understand and I want to keep some integrity in this blog.

Back to the update: I have socked away $2150 of the year's $8000 goal so far. That is about $500 behind schedule, but if I put most of my tax refund into the market, that will sync things up again.

Frugal steps taken in 2018, in no particular order:

I have only spent money in a cafe once, using a gift card. The balance is that I spend about $30 per month on my favorite coffee from LaVazza and Costco espresso beans.

Comcast emails me a few weeks before my actual billing, and I noticed that my premium was going to jump from the usual $60 to $80. They restructured their speed tiers and were about to charge me more for the same level of service. I spent my first work break clearing that shit up. By the way, the speed boost is a silver-plated crock of shit, I have speed test screenshots to prove that this company is lying and tried to take my money. Anyway, stay on top of those subscriptions, folks!

I've been using Movie Pass, a service that's $10 per month and lets you see movies in theaters. Big flicks, multiple viewings of Black Panther, get you one!

I've been cooking dinner at home, having 10-cent oatmeal for breakfast on weekdays, and mostly brought lunch. I'm not completely boring and joyless - I've broken down and bought lunch at work less than 10 times this year. It's that...there's just...there's an Indian buffet 3 minutes away!

Hosting friends instead of going out. Putting that big ass TV and uncomfortable furniture to good use!

I live 20 miles from work and take the express bus instead of driving. People really wrinkle their nose at taking the bus, but the commuter ones are really comfortable, plus I can goof off, read or just look for hot drivers of other cars. The last time I put gas in the car, frat boys and sorority girls were puking green beer in celebration of a dude who got rid of snakes!

To tack onto living so far away from work: Seattle rent sucks, the apartments are old and small, and it's loud as hell. Sure, there's a 10-minute walk on both sides of the trip, and the rent is a lot more affordable, $800 for a 700 sq ft apartment. In the city are $1000 150 sq ft micro studios without kitchens! Lots of people are gearing up to move: factor transportation into your rent and see if the next neighborhood away could ease your financial burden.

2.50 per month for my phone. I read books and listen to music in my spare time outside of home, neither of which need a $40 data plan.

I sound like a broken record because these are habits 4 years in the making. Anyone can do it, especially if you start with one change at a time. Start with cutting out the Starbucks and making your own drinks...those people don't pay their taxes, anyway!

Gaming in Ape-ril: DKC and other titles

It's been a while, Folks! Working, studying and attending one of my closest friends' wedding were all priorities over the last 5 weeks. I also saw Ready Player One and am now halfway through the book. It's nice to see one of the shallowest things about the movie get addressed in the first 10 pages of the book, and I like that both formats give an awesome context for the pop culture miasma. See it, read it!

You can bet that I put in some work on the SNES mini, putting 40 hours into completing Final Fantasy 6. My memory of the game had as many stories as playable characters, and going through it again showed me that the story still spends more than half its time with Terra, the human-Esper hybrid and the fate of a world that tries to suppress magic for the good of humanity. I skipped a few sidequests, and completed the game around level 60, only having put about 6 hours into endgame grinding. The old me would have maxed everyone out and spent 80 hours completing the game from memory, but time is more valuable these days.

Besides, as this entry is titled, I had a hankering to play Donkey Kong Country. The first handful of levels are super fun, bouncing around and being shot out of barrels and then the difficulty hits like a freight train. There's a mine cart level that's not really about reflexes so much as memorizing enemy patterns, and that's about when I started to check out. It might take a week to scrape off some salt and try again, but boy did it suck for all the fun to stop so quickly.

Ohh well, at least I have 20 days to enjoy another bullshit Overwatch limited event. I call BS just because the loot usually gets locked away for an entire year before you get another chance at it. The events themselves are usually decently thought out, in all fairness. 

I mostly scratched the FPS itch via StarWars Battlefront 2, which revamped their progression system yet again. This iteration, where the classes and characters you use level up as you use them, and you can choose which skills to upgrade, is how the game should have worked from the get-go. They added some heroes and levels, and the only complaint is that the CTF mode where you have jetpacks is awful on Bespin. Bespin, a city in the clouds, has lots of places to fall off the map, and this is terrible because there's no air control with said jetpack. There are also issues with the flag spawning, and not being marked properly, so when it's picked up, the icon stays in the center of the map. I already hate this map, but it doesn't even work properly to boot! The result is that this map takes easily triple the amount of time to finish, and this is not a good thing.

Griping aside, I started playing the mother of all FPS games: Metroid Prime. This is the first time the game went 3D, and Nintendo and Retro Studios handled it gracefully. The graphics at the time were great, the soundtrack is incredible with just the right amount of remixes, and the environmental design is perfect. Moreover, Metroid Prime is an action game with a clever collectible system. You'll spend 20% of the game in a scan visor that allows you to glean combat strategies, read up on the game's lore, and most importantly allows you to explore the story at your own pace. When using your scan visor, your targets are orange and red. Red targets are vital information and switches, while orange are the background info and narrative, which is about anything from the native population's reaction to being invaded, the colonizer's difficulties with a mysterious (badass) bounty hunter, and their screwed up experiments with alien technology. My only drawback is the controls, which force you to use the Wiimote and nunchuck. This would be much better if the physical bar could mount my TV and stay in place. The controller itself mimics Samus' right-hand cannon and adds to the experience of the most immersive game I've ever enjoyed. However, nothing breaks this like this stupid device falling off your TV and Samus reacting by spinning in a circle while you cuss the engineers for using porous plastic and expecting tape to stick to it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Mid-March update

Well that dispute is settled.
I had Jones to be rewarded with violence for stringing together some button presses, and the PSN had Moral Kombat XL on sale. I remember getting grossed out by this game a few years back, but maybe my recent playthrough of Doom hardened my resolve. Either way, the developer has spent the last 3 titles building a legitimately good fighting system. In addition to the animators and modelers who have PhDs in anatomy, the jumpy battles are komplete with quick flips, snappy kombos, and kcertain moves have a great sense of impact. To hear the kreator Ed Boon talk in his Midwestern accent and witness friendly demeanor, you'd be hard pressed to imagine a guy like that signing off on Jax's fatality where he shoves your extended arms into your body, rips your head in half and ashes his cigar on your tongue. The roster is huge, and the horror franchise guest stars Predator, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, and the Xenomorph from Alien feel right at home in this expanded title.

I started Broken Age, a strange point-and-click adventure about two characters whose destinies intertwine. I started as Vella, who is the only girl with any sense in a village that sacrifices maidens to appease some obscure god. During the first part when you're trying to escape the ritual, Vella makes quips and komm--err, not talking about Mortal Kombat anymore--comments about complacency with ridiculous and unfair traditions. In short: Vella is woke.

The other half of the story is Shay, who despite being at least a teenager, is stuck aboard a space ship where all his comforts are met, but everything on the ship panders to him as if he were a toddler. For example, you're wandering space in your ship, "rescuing lost aliens" in what turns out to be a crane grabber machine that's collecting stuffed animals. It's all pretty dang cute, but the point is to break the fantasy and get woke.

Milking people out of money for
mobile games is a business chra-di-shin!
I am also playing Frozen Free Fall, a gem-matching mobile game that was ported to consoles. There are 400 levels, and you get 5-8 lives at a time before you have to wait 15 minutes to get more lives. There is one repetitive music track, and this game has no shame about coming from the awful business practices that are associated with mobile games. Frugal me, of course is simply planning on getting all the trophies over the next 6 months - year instead of ponying up the dough. That'll teach em!

I've been making progress through Final Fantasy 6, which spends at least 50% of the story focused on Terra, an magic using demi-goddess. Now that I'm playing it this month, I think it qualifies as a female-lead game, despite the multiple narratives and story branching. I'm about 20 hours into the game, and the world as I know it is about to be destroyed. If any of you remember the Floating Continent, you'll remember that the battles jump significantly in difficulty. You may also recall the music there, too. If not, Youtube it!

Finally, I started Nex Machina. This is a twin stick shooter by the dev team Housemarque, the folks who made Super Stardust HD and Resogun. That means dope electronic music, flashy effects and hard-but-fun boss fights. Nex Machina is a little different in standard twin stick shooter level design. It features a bunch of smaller maps that you navigate through instead of the usual area that you're bound inside of as wave after wave chases you. I'd better make up the rest of March with more girl games, cause this certainly doesn't have anything there. It's still dope and addictive, dho.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Still Cheap in March

K-Mart Jimmy Smits reacting to Loudmouth 45
For those of you in warmer climates, Seattle is still scooching along with 40F/4C degree days that are deceptively sunny. For those of you who recently invested, you might have gotten a recent shock when our illustrious president flapped his mouth about the economy and trade deals, and confused his Koreas. The news, as usual, blew the falling stock market out of proportion, and, while the cowards panicked and withdrew, the steadfast survived the...week that it took to recover. The more opportune took that window of vulnerability to buy some stock at a discount! Then everyone woke up and realized that when it comes to Wall Street quakes, people like us who don't need their investments until decades later should completely ignore the newsfolk who speculate on a hiccup in the market. I'm not calling it fake news, mind you. All of that shit is irrelevant until you need to draw on your investments.


My man here has the right idea
How have I stayed frugal lately? Same old story: keeping on top of subscriptions, knowing good alternative brands, cooking for myself, making my own coffee, and inviting friends over instead of going out. Same old story, right? Well, I've been putting in more time with friends and driving more as well as changing snacking habits to nuts, which are much more expensive than sugary stuff from the overstock grocery store. I also went hog-wild with the latest PSN sale, spending a whopping $60 on games to stock my Women's Games Months (Jan and March). All of this is overshadowed by $100 heating bills for the last 5 months, and that can shake the faith in frugality a bit.

The point? Just like cheat days on diets being necessary to go longer, you're going to have periods where you feel like you're hemorrhaging money. If you're already pretty good at saving, don't feel too bad; just try and limit it. I was raving all about triple-paycheck months, and these are definitely the best times to have a little fun. This might run a bit contradictory to a previous post, but the point here is that you should also have fun adding some of that "extra" cash to your investments, too. Just don't blow the whole check on silly shit.

Fill your belly in the house and heat that house!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Gaming Marches on...

Whoosh! In the last few days of Black History February, I ran across an article that mentioned March being Women's History Month. That fact had whooshed right by me for all my time on this planet! This comes as a relief because I spent most of February reading and whittling away at trophies on games I'd already started. Luckily, there are quire a few games with leading femmes left in my library that I never got to. While there are certainly a list of reasons to play these titles independent of playing as an underrepresented badass, it's just the perfect month to repeat January's theme! This time, I'll do my best to start Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice and Broken Age. Finishing 2016's Doom for the second time also reminded me how much I need to play Metroid Prime, which is also on my plate in March.

I'm also taking a single graduate-level course that is more homework than I've ever had, so let me just hide behind that as my recent drain on free time. It's for the better, as is calling attention to games with girls! Play on!

At work and in your personal life, how many accounts do you have that require a login?

Dudes. Chicks. Calm that consumer rush. This is a hard one, cause I try harder than the average Joe to be frugal and not financially wast...