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!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Game tropes

There are just some things that pop up all the time in games. While tropes might be defined as writing-related and not really mechanical, I'm going to use this as a blanket term for certain recurring elements that I see and happen to like.

Top dog, under dog, super dog

You might start the game as an all-powerful badass, but then you hit the wall, meet the boss, get sent back in time, or experience some other kind of trauma that makes you lose everything. The majority of the story is spent getting back to your beginning state, just to surpass it and get (overpowered) vengeance. This trope rules because you get a whiff of your character's potential, and it really maps out your skill progression. Super Metroid is a great example of this.

The Endgame choir

After losing an important character/city and spending hours catching up with the final boss, the time has come for you to face the greatest challenge of all (hopefully). The reckoning is usually accompanied by a unique music track, and how much better is it when there's a choir involved? Bonus points if there's another boss stage/form with more intense music. Final Fantasy games do all of this amazingly.

Press X to keep from dying

People diss quick-time events, but shame on you for putting the controller down in a God of War game! Sure, Heavy Rain has ridiculous moments like shaking the controller back and forth to shake your shaving cream, and then taking broad strokes with motion control to shave. However, dodging the titan's fist, running up his arm to stab him in the eye--if you get the timing correct--adds extra satisfaction when you could otherwise passively watch a cinematic. I just ask that the games be consistent and not have sporadic QTEs in a game that has none.

Dem gainz

I don't have a fantastic body, but if I'm already in the fantasy of playing someone who can jump two stories high, hold a rocket launcher with one hand, and shrug off a bullet like a cold breeze, then I don't mind being a mega-babe or hunk. Sure, body image is a thing, and there are just as many 8-pack-wielding men with perfect asses as there are zero-sag DD-cup leading ladies. Get over it and onto kicking perfectly-sculpted ass! Though that does remind me that while the DOA games overdid it with tit physics, apparently none of the graphical designers have ever seen a nice female butt before. People talk about Miranda's butt from Mass Effect, but it doesn't even look very good, nor has any physics to it. The part of me that's an ass-man has always been offended that such talented game designers are missing such an important feature of the physique!

Black bars

Barn door opening for levels, black bars at the top
and bottom inside buildings. Games were cinematic 30 years ago!
When I play old games, I like to think about what the gaming climate was like when they were released and how relevant the titles used to be. Gears of War was a big deal because you could smoothly stick yourself down behind a wall, pop out and gun down your unfortunate adversaries. Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time were both amazing transitions from 2d to 3d and the latter title had a really cinematic feel to it. Remember at the end of the first dungeon in the Deku Tree when the cinematic black bars lock your controls, the door behind Link gets barred, and the camera pans over to Gohma? Regardless of if there are too many cutscenes or not, the black bars drawing your focus as if you're a squinting observer are an awesome addition to games. Kudos if you noticed this in the original Legend of Zelda on the NES!

Saving Private AI

AI teammates are the shit. Usually invincible and full of indispensable quips and banter, they provide a great distraction for the bad guys. In the case of Elena Fisher from the Uncharted series, they can also be deadly and quite smart. Also related is your squadron radio chatter, especially with over-acted dying pilots and soldiers screaming, "RPG!" Star Wars Battlefront and Call of Duty games feature this.

What are your favorite and least favorite tropes in games? 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

2018 February II

Also, this game was released less than a week
after I posted the article!
My last post might've been a bit salty about not being able to play games with black characters. Well, there are at least 100 titles out there with brown characters. This turned out to be a great extension from what I was doing in January, moving to another underrepresented group in gaming. While most of these games are on older systems, Windows or mobile platforms, Broken Age was a free PS+ title that's been resting on my PS4 for over a year. Shame. On. Me. Well, I guess I'd better play it soon!

This image toooootally belongs to The CW
In the first half of February, I've done more TV-watching: Black Lightning has a long large, low-hanging pendulum that swings between cool and corny. While most of it's the former, with a dope soundtrack, beautiful actresses, current and timeless issues in the black community, and level-headed people in power doing their best, the show has taken the time to flush out the villains, so far. On the corny side, Black Lightning's suit looks ridiculous, and some of VFX reveal the show's budget; though they spent enough resources on some compelling writing. So far, Jefferson Pierce (the alter ego) has been more entertaining to watch than the superhero: he's a high school principal with influence and connections, as well as a kick-ass father.

CBS totally owns this hella Photoshopped image
Star Trek Discovery regained some of the ground it'd lost; I wasn't a fan of the writing in the show's second half, but the first season finished up alright. My girl Sonequa is still standing up for what's right, and kicking ass all over the universe in the name of Federation values.

Odds and ends. I finished up the platinum trophies for the Uncharted Collection, though I left the expansion trophies unfinished, since that would require beating each title 2 more times! Star Wars Battlefront II is a continued slog through killing hero ships as an XWing or TiE Fighter. There's also the fact that the community is getting really good at the game and there are fewer noobs to take out your frustrations on. I had a Jones to play Doom about a week before it went on sale for $5 at RedBoxes. That's been a welcome distraction in February, and Doom reminds me of a super-gory (and fun) version of Metroid Prime.

Mina can be descriptive at times...
Iconoclasts has proven to be a really fun game with only a few hard moments. I talked before about one factor of the great gameplay being how you traverse the map in less-than-linear fashion. Another hallmark of this game is the boss fights. You have a wrench that gets powered up, and a few different types of guns, and all the boss fights involve a combination of your newest powers, some aiming, and some pattern-learning. The fights are unique but easy to figure out,  and end with a badass explosion. I started the game on HARD, and found out how to defeat bosses after 2 or 3 deaths on average. The only non-positive thing I have to say is that I tuned out of the story because I couldn't follow it. The exchanges between characters are funny and full of energy; I just have no idea what they're talking about. All in all, this game is super easy to recommend, and getting the full trophy list isn't particularly hard, and you can even get it on the normal difficulty setting, as far as I know. The music rules, the sprites are crisp and well-done, the cast is mostly babes, and the boss fights will keep you going.

I was also either struck by lightning or saw Black Panther and got an SNES mini classic used off Amazon in the same week. I will put out an entry about Black Panther soon, but the SNES mini is kinda cheap looking, but the interface is awesome, and I started Final Fantasy VI and hopefully will be able to keep the story intact. This game feels so good to play, and the soundtrack is one of the top. I remember finding out new secrets in this game from friends in middle and high school; there were hella. The 21-game library is something to savor, and if you're looking for one, I'd encourage you to do a search every couple days: I wonder if the hype wore off and they're more available now.

Gotta go, readers! Do any of you have an SNES or NES Classic Mini? What games did you beat? What memories were triggered with some of the games you played?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Games 2018: February

As what felt like the longest month in existence comes to a grinding close, I find myself wanting to continue playing games in themed bundles. With today marking the start of Black History month, Black Panther being released two weeks in, and me being super excited for both, it would have been nice to have February dedicated to games with black characters.

Yep, woulda been nice.

Would. Have. Been. Great.

Betcha didn't know!
It wasn't the hardest challenge to cultivate a group of female protagonist games, but games with black and brown lead characters simply don't exist outside of sports games. Now, I love Japan like a second home. However, Japanese gaming doesn't really have a place for nonwhite or non-Japanese characters. They just don't give a hoot.

Fortune favors the hot
Sure, there's hot-headed Barrett Wallace in Final Fantasy VII, fist-fighting Bruce in Tekken, never-miss, never-hit Fortune in Metal Gear Solid 2, and funky Zack in Dead or Alive, but it's also unrealistic to rely on a 98% homogeneous culture to produce games with racial diversity. That's where Western developers come in. Blizzard has brown characters in Diablo and Overwatch, and the Mortal Kombat games have Jax, Jade and the Lin-Kuei robot assassin Cyrax was revealed to be originally a brotha a bunch of titles back.

There's also the issue of keeping my game plan from financially spiraling out of control; ideally I should be cultivating the themed titles from my existing backlog. This is the perfect time to bring up the 2 games I bought yesterday. I saw 2 more female protagonist games that I just had to scoop up.

Beautiful people drawn beautifully
Over the first half of February, I will be going through Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, and Iconoclasts. The former was apparently one of the best titles in 2017, and should be a short-but-sweet journey of less than 10 hours to platinum. Iconoclasts was just released (a week ago, as of this post), and is a 16-bit exploratory sidescroller with an all-girl playable cast. So far, I've played as the mechanic named Robin, who's got a big wrench and a big ass. Or is it just the jodpurs? Either way, the game has awesome music, great colors, smooth animation, and loads of character. What's more impressive is how fun the game is because of the pathing. The map works like any Castlevania game made in the last 15 years, but you end up crisscross areas to open other small places, making pathing more complex than left-to-right. I committed the ultimate financial sin and paid the full $20 for this title, but I'll just have to hope that the dev team sees my enthusiastic dollars for this great title.

I'll try and think of my next theme for games and get back to you. I've neglected to give my readers food for thought, so here goes: What's a theme of games I should play this year? What are some of your favorite games with leading ladies? What are your favorite minority characters in games?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

January 2018 ladies' month update

2018 has been off to a great start, and taking these adventures with leading ladies has been quite fun. It certainly hasn't brought any kind of profound transformations, but that wasn't really the goal. I was raised by my mother as she worked 2 jobs and put food on the table until she could teach my brother and I how to take care of ourselves. Proud to be a mama's boy.

Thematically, my other media has been on a pro-woman kick, too, in addition to my selection of female protagonist games. I'm reading the fourth book in The Kingfountain series, of which the first 3 books were about a boy named Owen who uses magic to solve problems and defend a kingdom. To my surprise (I don't read book abstracts), the fourth book focuses on his daughter, who is coming of age and into her own character, realizing that she would rather be a warrior like her father, than a wizard like her mother. She's setting up to raise a legion of all-female warriors, which is of course an exception to the book's established culture of male warriors. The author doesn't club us over the head with injustices that we can't do anything about, and instead establishes a flexible culture. My takeaway was that if you're writing a fantasy book, the culture in it doesn't have to be such an obvious patriarchy and mimic real history. The genre is already fantasy, meaning the reader should be ready to be open...why not build a different culture too! This obviously applies way beyond gender, too.

Do££ar$ and Pound$
HRH. I also have to give a shout out to Netflix's The Crown, which is a biographical drama about Queen Elizabeth II. Folks, I am sucked in. It helps that the show is visually stunning, and the music is done by my boy Hans Zimmer. The second season is really good at adhering to per-episode themes, and, while a small part of me hopes for minimal embellishment in the storytelling, the show is so good to watch that I'm happy in fantasy land. This article says that the writer is pretty accurate, but that's only one article. Regardless, seasons of TV means you're spending a long time with characters and get to know them quite well, and this still-reigning queen is both inspiring and unenviable with a great story to tell.

What girl doesn't have a sword and shield under her bed?
Nostalgia powers activate!
A fearless girl and her teddy. As far as my ladies-first gaming goes, I changed up the original plan and began with the Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus. This exploratory action platformer has a great soundtrack, and mostly-enjoyable gameplay. It's unabashedly inspired by Zelda 2, and has some really clever boss fights. The most frustrating part of this game is that double-tapping forward makes you dash. This is a nightmare on precise platforms when you're crawling to the edge, or trying to close the distance to attack enemies with your incredibly short dagger. The game has an opening crawl ala Legend of Zelda, and other than a final 1-minute scene, is pure uninterrupted action. Also, at a $5 sale price, this is an easy recommendation.

Can't high jump...there's only place (2) things to hit...
Hard-as-nails. Between rounds of mostly choosing Rei, Gen. Leia Organa (no longer "princess") and the two female Empire badasses Iden Versio and Cpt. Phasma in Star Wars Battlefront 2, I also got around to playing Momodora, which is a lot more like the later Castlevania games, and pretty damn difficult. The 16-bit art is pretty awesome, but I've only given the game 2 hours because I've died a lot. Neat graphics, challenging gameplay, but I have a feeling it gets easier and more enjoyable later on.

There is a LOT of listening to people talk in this game.
Temporal Yap-fest. Dreamfall: Chapters has been like cheesecake for me: it's really heavy and I can only stomach a bit at a time, though I enjoy it. This game is all about the atmosphere and it's reinforced by the dialogue. The setting is pretty futuristic and the neat tech is coupled more with politics than weapons and war. So far. This is all so detailed that I feel no shame in using a guide to find out which choices to make. Characters talk for literally 1 minute at a time, and if I'm asking the NPCs every single question, it's just too many details to remember. If you like story and dialogue-driven games, like Telltale games, this game is for you. I'm fine to glean what I can off the choices my guide has made for me.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

2018 set your goals now!

I spent most of 2017 with unpredictable income, due to both unemployment and a sporadic work schedule. I closed the year with a full-time job and now I have a steady paycheck. For those of you who are fortunate enough like my recent self to have predictable income, you should set your sights on some financial goals for the year. I'd set my goals quarterly, rather than waiting until the gifty Christmas/Chaunnakuh/Kwanzaa season to try and tally everything for 2018. So, if you've never saved before, and make $15-20 hourly, start with $100 by the time your favorite flower blooms in April. Double it for the quarter after that, and build up to 10% of your annual income. The average person in my age group saved -1.8% in 2017, so you can be that much better off! I'm personally aiming for 30% this year, on the $2000 monthly (Seattle minimum wage), but I've been living frugally for 3 years. Two years ago, I saved $3000 of my total $17,000. That was 17%. You can do 10%.

If you are wondering how you can put aside that much money, click on the label 'frugality,' on the right side of this blog, and you'll see all my posts with suggestions how to live dat frugal life. Some of my favorites that I actually live by are: cooking for myself, driving minimally, eliminating unnecessary subscriptions and buying a year at a time instead of going monthly, knowing good 3rd-tier brands, making my own coffee, and regulating my hobby by completing more games than I buy. Also, if you get paid every 2 weeks, there are bonus treasure months with 3 paychecks. That does not mean shopping spree, unless it's splurging on a decent coffee maker to ween off your thrice daily $4 coffees, or some good tires to make driving safe.

The last huge financial decision is that I live outside of Seattle proper. This means I get to take advantage of the $15 minimum wage, which is about 30% higher than my local suburb. This means that I am a good 15 miles from work, and take the bus because parking is unreasonably high ($20 per day). The commute is roughly 8 hours per week, which is a lot of reading time. Another advantage of dat suburb lyfe is that there's a supermarket right across the street that I don't need to drive to. I'm also not paying downtown rent in my food prices, so things are cheaper in general.

The finest brrrrick wall! I've ever seen...
I usually put people to sleep talking about this stuff, and yet others will brick wall me and say that saving $8000 in a year is impossible, or that they can't make sacrifices. Okay, so save $1000 this year and you'll still be ahead! That statistic of millenials going 1.8% further into debt last year was for people making $52,000 ($26 hourly at full time)! Avocado toast indeed! If you're in this income bracket, I double-dog dare you to do the $8000 that I am shooting for. Even if you're raising a family, I think you can still follow some of my suggestions and come out ahead.

A little patience paid off immensely
What to do with your nest egg? I strongly urge you to do some research on investing. Investopedia allows you to create a fake stock account with $100k that simulates investments on the actual market. I did this for 3 months before determining which stocks I'd buy with real money. I've personally had great luck investing in Vanguard S&P 500 stock and I'm not the only one. My thoughts are that if American businesses are as ruthless as they are, they'll know what to do with my money. Worrying about market crashes is silly because if it happens, we're screwed anyway, but temporarily. Don't invest money you need now; that way you can be patient with the returns. 4% may not look like much, but once you make it to your first $10,000, that's a brand new yearly PS4 Pro you've earned yourself (though hopefully you'll just add that money to the pile.)

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...