Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Debt and my degree


Whipping up a bowl of debt-free delicacy
I have braved the waves in my journey as a 31 year old. I can now behold the majestic view that is a life officially debt-free, as I have just paid off the remainder of my $15,000 loan. This was only half of what I borrowed to go to 2 years of university. In 2003, when I entered Western Washington University, my mom's salary of $55k disqualified me for any grants. She ended up being forced to take out a "parent plus" loan for the other $15k, which is a crock of shit, but she wasn't about to let her son get priced out of a future.

It took 10 years after graduation to start attacking that debt, though. There were 2 years where I made more than $2000 a month. The rest of that decade, I was teaching part-time, or getting a low salary in one of the many economic traps for teachers. Then I got a sweet full-time job in a Japanese school, and everything changed. My friend Zack had turned me onto the idea of financial independence, and taking money more seriously. I used to take so much pride in never paying full price for things, and opting for old fashions, but in the end I just used the money to buy more games and collect bullshit. I've always been frugal, thanks to my grandfather, but 2013 was the turning point where I started investing my savings rather than buying more shit.

With my first full year in Japan in 2013, on a good salary, I defeated $10k in debt that had crept up over the years, and invested another $5k. The tax rate of the still-big loan was 3.75%. Basically, the half of my salary that I sent home in 2013 was better used to destroy high-interest credit card debt (~12%) and invest in aggressive stock market returns (~15%) than that wimpy loan tax rate.

I learned from this 10-year loan that college debt is pretty forgiving when pit against other middle-class expenses. I didn't' have to start paying until a year after graduation, plus there were further deferment options, and a really low minimum payment, like $50. There was no car note for me, and I didn't have a family to support, either.


College is supposed to be your shot for a boost in economic mobility. But, I found that to apply so generally that it was disappointing. I chose to be an ESL teacher overseas, where you can get hired with ANY baccalaureate, and only minuscule does your employer understand that your major might be relevant to teaching the language. This realization hit me first after I saw a Spanish language major get paid more than me, who majored in Linguistics, with a TESL certification. While there are other factors at stake, like experience (though it was the first year teaching for both of us) and negotiating power, that was the first ego deflation that my diploma didn't mean as much as I had thought. It turns out that I didn't get to use any of my training and knowledge of language until a few years later, when I got to teach grammar to some higher-level students. This helped me re-define a university diploma as a badge of discipline; proof that you were able to get things done, more or less on time, for 4 years. 

For years, I devalued my diploma because I thought my honed language skills weren't recognized. It made me quite bitter to teach in a school alongside science, literature and loads of international business majors. However, if you take the above definition, you can add on that while you're shaping yourself to be a responsible worker bee who finishes projects on time, you at least get to choose something you're interested in. Well, assuming your parents don't take that away from you and force you to become a major THEY want. However, chances are that if you're in that position, you won't get control of your life any time soon. The flip side is that your parents are probably paying for your education, so bonus!


I am very happy for the connections I made at university, and it was nice to satisfy some curiosities I had, while walking away with some certification that put me into a 10-year-strong career. Teaching is all coming to an end, as I'm changing paths to retail customer service, but I've left a bunch of doors open in dat old career.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Cheapass wins...flawless victory. Frugality!

Hey, y'all! I wanted to give an update on how I'm living cheaply. My 2 games in, 1 game out strategy has gone well. I paid $48.99+tx (NOT full retail price) for StarWars Battlefront, and have completed Titan Attack, and I am almost finished with Crimson Dragon, a free title via Xbox Live Gold.

Sistema is made in NZ, and durable as hell.
Since March, I've lived with a family I'm very close to, which is cheating, frankly. Lots of you who are looking to save money don't have this option, but as more 1-bedroom apartment rents soar north of $1000, you might start to make nice with old neighbors and relatives. The family gives me access to their car, but I still walk 20 minutes to the transit center, and bus in to work, like a good boy. Another cheating point is that the family cooks for me and hates leftovers, meaning I get to bring my lunch to work everyday. If you decide to go that route, forget traditional tupperware. Sistema microwave/freezeware is the real deal. I've used mine for a year and a half, and there's no peeling or melted plastic scarring. The seal comes out, and all the plastic parts are easily washable.

Just need to plastic wrap them suckers
Breakfast, however, is where I can contribute. Barring some unfortunate allergy, I would suggest peanut butter (or another kind of--don't laugh--nut butter) balls. Take a buncha oats, mix in a pinch of cinnamon, an even tinier bit of salt, some chocolate chips. I currently use about a tablespoon of maple syrup or honey for a sweetener for every 1 cup of unsweetened PB. Boom! Then I wrap a heaping tablespoon with plastic wrap in my palm and make into a ball. These balls are the calories you need, and beat pastries (my weakness!) in the health department by a longshot. I make 1cup into 4 balls, and that's 3 breakfasts and a pick-me-up on the days with long shifts.

$5 per kit. I still want to add another type of candy.
Speaking of shifts, I'm taking advantage of the holiday season and working two jobs for the month of December. I wouldn't recommend this for anyone who isn't relatively strong, but have found that I can do just about anything for a month. At work, I've resisted the Keurig, and clung to sharing the pot with co-workers or using the single-cup aeropress.



These cute paper/cardboard boxes are $1.50 each at Daiso.
Tadaa! I may add some filler, like tissue paper or paper confetti.
I'm hearing a lot of creative Christmas gift ideas for keeping it cheap. My favorites include homemade fudge, hollowed-out false books, and a toilet-paper roll with cash stuffed inside. I've also gone some shopping at Daiso (Japanese dollar store - everything is $1.50+tx, but the selection is a cut above your typical dollar store) for my younger gift recipients. As a person who has moved and traveled a lot, I'm a huge fan of giving consumable gifts, which won't take up more room while someone feels obligated to keep something they may or may not actually like. I like gift cards, but I'm sure a lot of you who give those wonder how big a gift card is good enough?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Each garb comes with different abilities and stats, and are rendered realtime in cutscenes!

It's too bad that Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII isn't really a Final Fantasy game, because it's got so many things that I like about it. Graphically, it's a masterpiece with amazing realtime cutscenes, costume design for your main character, and environment design. Musically, this is the best non-Uematsu soundtrack out there, with a LOT of battle themes, and probably the best chocobo theme to date. In terms of voice acting, the 100 or so NPCs almost all have their own voice actor, accent and mannerisms. This game also has the most mature characters I've seen in a Final Fantasy.

"Gah!...damnit, Lumina! Go chase a tree!"
Lightning is a really developed character; the tough savior of mankind who doesn't sugar coat anything. Other than 2 or 3 of the 50+ costumes, your main character isn't depicted as sexy, bimboish, or overly feminine. Instead, you play a warrior who is hella cynical, a bit gruff, and doesn't take bullshit either. There's a really girly character that appears throughout the game and pesters you with the "I know something you don't know" attitude, and Lightning clearly wants to kick her teeth in.

You solve people's problems to save their souls, in the final 14 days of humanity's existence. Whether you're helping a drunk who lost his wife forgive himself or slaying 20 monsters to prove your worth, this game hasn't gotten old in the 55 hours I've put into it. There's even a quest where 3 moogles - flying, cute, magical cat-fairies - are lost just outside their village. Lightning suggests that they look for their village from the air, because in the 10 days that they've been lost, it's never occured to them to simply fly higher off the ground. There are other parts in the story where the savior calls people out on their ignorance. She's got a very tough-love attitude toward her big dumb brother-in-law and ends up beating the piss out of him. I just don't feel like I've heard an FF game be so mature in its approach to dialogue and character thinking.

Since Final Fantasy games have had spoken dialogue (as of the 10th title) there have been lots of barriers to prevent me from liking characters. FFX is filled with all kinds of awkward pauses between dialogue lines, awful lip synching, and suffers from bad localization. FFX-2 has much better dialogue-synching and each character moves differently when they speak, but their banter is so painfully childish. Better localization would mean adults aren't teasing other adults about having boyfriends. It just doesn't work that well in this culture.

Earlier, I said this game wasn't a proper Final Fantasy game because the franchise staples, such as the espers/gods/aeons are almost completely missing in favor of a two-god religious setting. There is no airship, you control one character. The battle system is close to ATB, but you don't gain stats by doing battle: you get stats from completing quests. The game is also non-linear: there are 4 distinct areas that you do quests in. Each area has it's own unique setting and feel, with some great music pieces that vary during different times of day. Ironically, it's also not a Final Fantasy because it's actually a sequel! The nice part of it is that this game's story is a nice place to wrap up the Nova Chrystallis universe, and possibly move to Ivalice (FF Tactics, FF XII) or somewhere else.

Good run in your FF trilogy, guys. NOW MOVE OVER!
As a tangent to this game's obsession with religion, I noticed that Japanese writers really really want to talk about "God," which just doesn't have the same cultural context. Through my experience with Japan and its cultures, I've gotten the impression that some Japanese are worried about being seen as godless. I'll say that Japanese religion is in their routine. Bathing is done in two stages; shower to clean, and then soak in the tub to relax. Food presentation is especially important, and when you eat with others, you usually say itadakimasu. Giving and receiving gifts is just about required for trips, and many holidays in the year. This gets very expensive, but everyone gets everyone everything. You could call it cultural habits, but the conviction behind these practices is at the level of deeply religious behaviors. Do they go into a building, play music and talk about His Omnipotence? No. But I think that the Japanese tenacity to procedures and rules is quite religious.

Dem graphics!
Anyway, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII - 3 is so far one of my top Squaresoft games, without the benefit of nostalgia. I recommend you play it for its impressively-done characters, music and graphics. You only need a vague recollection of the first FF XIII, and even then the story is decently contained into the one title.

"Luxerion, is it? This is the city of light? Problem is, the brightest lights cast the darkest shadows." --Lightning's reacting quote to starting in the middle of a murder mystery.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Games in 2015: Fall


My favorite season is here at last! I remember the difficulty getting used to waking up early again. Plus, there was that crabbiness towards my cheerful older brother who woke me up for school; he had usually worked through summer and didn't really sleep in. Fall brings those crisp cold mornings where it's sunny, and the plants are all coated in dew, and your sense of smell is heightened...and there's always the awesome apples and hot drinks. Fall rules! When the rain ramps up, it'll only add to it being prime game season. Halo 5, Starwars Battlefront, Rainbow Six are a few games that are coming just around the corner! Attacking my backlog is going rather well:

September

This month's first game was Bastion. I saw the dev's booth (SuperGiant Games) at PAX, and several people told me I needed to play it. Boy, was this one of the best gaming experiences of 2015. This is a brawler game with a level-up system that is quite addictive. The game is pretty, gameplay is simple, and it is narrated up to the moment of everything you do. Problem is, you'll start talkin like the narrator after a spell. Bastion is a short commitment, cheap, and an awesome treat. 5/5 for enjoyment.

Dumbly-named Billy Yoder about to get chomp'd.
I finished off the Telltale Jurassic Park games, beating Episode 4. The biggest pain in the ass is one of the last fights, which has a 2 minute unskippable dialogue scene that I went through 20 times, just to fail the poorly-timed button sequences. Other than that crappy sequence, this game had some neat puzzles - there's a part where you're trapped underground and have to compare your teammates' screens with a map, combing over details as you decide how to escape these creepy creatures. If I had to have a point system, I'd say this game had an overall enjoyment of 2/5.

Yeah...I don't really...got anything.

Doki-Doki Universe is a totally random hand drawn game where you, a robot, visit different planets to learn how to be 'human.' The thing is that you learn emotions and behaviors through animals and aliens, in addition to homo sapiens. The game is bizarre, and pretty much talk to x, get item y, bring it back to x. It was a quick 7-hour 100% trophy hunt. I can't say it was boring, but it was far from the best thing I've ever played, and the art style reminded me of Katamari Damacy, which is one of my favorite games ever made. I actually read most of the dialogue of this game, and would give it a 4/5 because it's short.

On Xbox One, some free-to-play puzzle game called Frozen Free Fall has taken up my mornings. This game feels like a franchise cash-in, but still has solid gameplay. You have to reach a target score or eliminate certain blocks with either a time limit or move limit. You get a certain amount of times to fail, and if you fail 5 times, you have to either wait a few hours or purchase them. The achievements are still obtainable, but it's very much designed to be frustrating. Levels are 50/50 for randomly generated tiles and fixed ones. If you play a level decently and lose, you'll have a strong chance of repeating that loss because of this. I was too caught up in the game to try exiting to the main menu to reset the tiles. Enjoyment is a 2/5 for being pay-to-win. I love gem-matching puzzle games, and their arbitrary limits to gameplay keep this from being an easy 5/5.

GET HIS AyuSS!
I also started a second quest on Murdered: Soul Suspect. I wanted to get all collectibles, see more stories, and show my girlfriend this game that's as much fun to observe as it is to play. The cutscenes are well-done, and there are certain collectibles which lead to great voice-over stories. The patchwork of collectible guides has me with no less than 8 tabs open in Chrome, which is obnoxious. This game is a solid 5/5 for enjoyability. Even better if you're not looking for all of the collectibles.

October

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is pret-ty different! The game has a very nonlinear progression, as well as a time limit, and improving your character is done through completing missions. This doesn't cut out grinding, though, as some missions require collecting a certain amount of items from killing monsters. I REALLY like the game so far (check out my separate review), but the FFs have gotten pretty pretentious, always talking about God and divinity...what happened to espers and emperors? They're pretty, and the art direction is probably the best 3d rendering of rich 2d anime come to 'life' I've ever seen, but I miss the 4- and 5-party FF teams that you'd take into battle - SquareEnix has shrunk the party for 8 games now.

November

There 'e is!
Turkey, stuffing, Martinelli's, overeating, forced smiles and Black Friday. That about sum it up? NO! Because November 2015 saw some pretty fucking huge news: Xbox One brought backwards compatibility to the mix, and my library grew by a whopping 10 games! One of these that I dove right into was Plants vs Zombies. I love tower defense games, and this game makes me laugh. The grand zombie with glasses in his boxers who gets pissed if you rip his newspaper? Yeah, that shit's funny as hell. 5/5 for enjoyment, price, and short time investment.

I also spent a lot of time with Crimson Dragon...I'm at the last handful of achievements for that one. This game is a spiritual successor to the 90's Panzer Dragoon games; your character is on top of a dragon, shooting at various enemies as they fly at or by you. Crimson Dragon is a lot less about the rider and his mount, and more that you are a nameless soldier in a larger war.

The story is really superfluous, and an example that studios should really quit the shit on shoehorning story into games that don't need it. Maddox has a lot to say about that. What I understood about the story is that there's a virus that makes animals crazy, and you're fighting it by killing the crazy animals. The gameplay: use one stick to move the dragon up, down, left and right, and the other to move your reticle. You have two weapons, and your dragons have different elements that do more and less damage to certain enemies. The game is very pretty, and I played for 1-2 hours each setting, despite some levels only being 3 minutes long. As you beat levels, your dragons level up, so that's a nice mechanic. I like Crimson Dragon a lot, for it's great graphics, scope of achievements, and focus on accurate shooting. 5/5 for price, graphics, and really fun gameplay.
The three characters whom you won't give a shit about, cause the dragons are way cooler!

November 17th and onwards was mostly about one game, though. Star Wars Battlefront is authentic. At first, this game's graphics are merely nice, and definitely not the sharpest or most detailed you've seen on the newest generation. That is, however, until you consider the size of the maps. A map, which loads in about 15 seconds, might take 2 minutes of sprinting to cross. Also, the terrain, characters and vehicles don't really have degrees of detail: I'm pretty sure they're always in full detail. So, considering that you play these GIANT maps with 40 players, it's easy to understand how this game is utilizing dat processor. The sound effects are top notch, and the music is taken directly from the original trilogy. Gameplay is so incredibly addicting, with standard FPS modes like capture this and deliver that, but then there's Heroes vs Villains. In this mode, you are a team of 6, and 3 of you are the lead characters from Star Wars: Han, Leia and Luke vs Vader, Palpatine, and Boba Fett. Every other round, you spawn as one of these heroes, so everyone gets a chance. The round is over when all 3 from one team are killed. When you're not a hero, you're the generic rebel or imperial force that you play in the main FPS game.

There's also the vehicle combat. Currently, you can only be a tie fighter or interceptor, x-wing or a-wing, but I can only guess that other canon ships will be available in further DLC. Every time you play, you get credits and xp to unlock weapons, upgrades and costumes, which adds to the crack batch that this game is. I've injured my back and neck simply from playing this game too much; that's how good it is! (Or maybe, how dumb I am.) 5/5.

Now it's December. Here comes winter!!!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Reflection on Gotham's Dark Knight


Over the last 2 months, my previously-Batman-less girlfriend and I have watched all 7 Batman films.

Batman: This original Batman has the same weakness that all of the live action movies have: not enough Batman roaming the shadows and laying down his own justice with various gadgets. That said, it DOES have my favorite Bruce Wayne. Micheal Keaton's Bruce Wayne is as quirky-looking as you'd expect for a rich person who lives in a creepy mansion, puts on a suit and stalks a scary city at night. This movie also has the most maturity to it, in that Wayne's romantic pursuit takes a while to develop, and there aren't a whole lot of neat effects to subdue the kids. This movie also has my favorite ending (top of the city hero shot + great score track).

Yes.
Batman Returns has an awesome opening sequence that gives you more to look at than credits. You also get to hear the Danny Elfman theme with more oomph. Batman Returns doesn't waste any time cutting to shit you want to see. Batman's backstory is established, so a little chaos in the streets brings one of the series'  great shots: Wayne stands with the Bat Signal on him to a music cue. This movie brings an interesting mood to it. It's still as dark as the first movie, but with a little comical twist. The part where Batman does a 180 in the Batmobile just to boost his flaming jet on the fire-spitting juggler comes to mind. Secretary Selina Kyle's relationship to shady CEO Max Shreck is also comical at times, and gets really jarring when he pushes her to her death. I still jump every time, even though I know it's coming. But good lord, this Catwoman is sexy, and it's pretty awesome that she considers getting even with her CEO once in for all worth sparing half of her nine lives. There's a scene when she talks to Penguin about working together and who's got the upper hand, and it's got innuendo, physical comedy, and two really good actors making a great moment.

Batman Forever is a favorite because a change in director brought such a goofy movie that only takes a nugget of itself seriously. This movie starts off with 30 minutes of one-liners and really stupid exposition. Then we get to see a return to darkness with brooding Bruce Wayne and Two-Face's killing of Dick Grayson's parents. This movie has a lot of style and color compared to its predecessors, and the Riddler is infinitely quotable and as Jim Carey as possible. Wayne's love interest in this is Dr Chase Meridian, which is probably the most gorgeous Nicole Kidman has ever looked. They throw more one-liners at each other, and some really light, obvious psychology, and then we get treated to one of the best shots in the Batman series. At some point, Batman jumps off a roof to chase the villains, and the camera pans up and down his figure, cape-a-flying as the theme gets  going. I feel like the director wasted this shot because our hero falls right through a tube to his own burial. Ahh well, the Bat vehicles are the best in the series. The final note is that I am a huge fan of the corny running towards the screen in slow motion at the end of the movie.

Batman and Robin doesn't have much going for it, as you can tell the film's agenda is in merchandise and partnerships with fast food. Poison Ivy is really sexy, but Bane sucks. Mr Freeze's jokes are hilarious, and George Clooney doesn't make a good Batman or Bruce Wayne. The vehicles are really impractical and look ugly. On the other hand, this movie has my favorite Batsuits with heavy leather capes and silver accents. The movie also boasts my favorite-looking Gotham. Both the Schumacher Batmans have Greek/Roman statues embedded in the city and buildings, and add great atmosphere to all of the chase scenes.

Sorry Nolan, didn't like your tumbler as much as the others.
10 years later, we get Christopher Nolan to direct 3 more-realistic, dark and serious but consistent movies. Batman Begins has really good suspense, and boy do they make you wait to see Batman...in all 3 movies. In almost 8 hours of the movie, you see Batman for a quarter of it. Christian Bale is neither my favorite Batman nor Wayne, but he certainly couldn't be accused of not trying. With the Nolan trilogy, we get consistently great acting, great lines, a great score, and some great combat. The first movie has some really great scenery, and Alfred is fantastic in the whole trilogy.

The Dark Knight is simply as perfect a movie as I could ever hope for. There's nothing else to add.

The Dark Knight Rises is severely lacking in Batman, and the Bat could possibly my least favorite vehicle in the franchise. I thought Bane was interesting, but to have some brains - intelligent villains with a plan are so much better to watch! They didn't spend enough time on Catwoman, and the story's crazy timeline was hard to ignore. The movie does, however, have my favorite music of the trilogy, which is Bane's menacing theme. I am very very interested in seeing Nolan direct a Batman team, whether he works together with Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, or all of them.

I may have botched a reference here or there, but it was really nice going through such an exciting and eccentric part of American culture with my girlfriend. She liked all of them, and ended up liking the last movie more than anyone else I know.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

PAX 2015: A first of many to come!


 
Rocket League tournament@SONY
For those of you who don't know, the Penny Arcade eXpo is a 4-day weekend of tabletop games, videogames, anime, cosplay, gaming culture presentations, and there is a ton of winning winning winning! At TGS, Tokaigi, and other conventions, you stand in line to play a game demo for 15 minutes or watch a trailer on a huge screen, all while on the lookout for hot booth babes or cosplay. You can find this at PAX, but there are a lot more ways to walk away with stuff: gaming tournaments on every system, scavenger hunts based on finding qr codes throughout the 8-building grounds (holy shit, right?), games played while waiting in line, and tons of even-if-you-lose concessions. 

(B)Link
Tickets to this event were sold out within hours of going on sale, and that was 3 months before the event. Luckily, applying to work at PAX opened after that, and lil ol me was accepted to join the ranks. The Enforcer[E] crowd are good people. Nerds of every caliber who were there to help other nerds be nerdy. My favorite part about the event was talking to people: PAX is so very social, which I cannot claim is true for other expos of its type. My Japanese is conversational, so it's not all lack of skill and effort on my part. But, the host culture means that TGS and Tokaigi attendees talk to their own groups, and leave the noisemaking to the presentations. To contrast, I had a dozen attendees during PAX come up and talk and hang out (well, I WAS at a lounge with beanbags) and struggle with eye contact and stumble through sentences about Pokemon, Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda. I'm not poking fun at these people, I'm saying they overcame their uncomfortableness to talk about cool shit. There were lots of tips when and where to wait in line for limited pins and giveaways. With the exception of my family and friends, it was the most genuine group of strangers I've ever rolled with before. 

I've never been more aware of the getting-to-know-someone process than here because there were no professional guidelines or barriers to limit the context of conversation.

This poor bastard was bleeding for 96 hours.
Some of you reading this might be like my co-workers who ironically live in Seattle and look down on gaming culture. I hope you open up and welcome gaming into your life, because pretty soon you're gonna be the weirdos who don't game out! Also, there are major economic opportunities: I met two people from Tulsa who said there weren’t any PC cafes there, and the only arcade had games that were 30 years old. Not to mention the fact that there probably aren’t any connections to Japan or anime. $10k, open an arcade for all the IT people who need a place to spend it!

The biggest sour point was that I wish I had had friends to attend PAX with on my off-hours, though. However, there were almost 1000 [E]s, so it was pretty easy to chat up one of them when I was feeling like doing something other than gawking excitedly. I’ve also heard that going with a group means you’ll inevitably spend time doing things you don’t want to do.

NintIndies...I see what you did there!
Highlights of the event: NintIndies had a room in the Sheraton Hotel with a dozen titles: Typoman, a sidescroller with live word puzzles; Runbow, an 8-player frantic platform racer; and a game called Shantae, a sidescrolling adventure game with leveling up. Also, there was an [E]-only Magic: the Gathering draft tournament where I won the first of three rounds, but ultimately had to concede because the second round took place a little too late for my tastes. Had a blast, though.

WRONG ARIES, dude...you're looking for Ares!
One thing that didn’t rule about that weekend was how much non-PAX time I wasted not being there. Friday and Monday were work days, and Saturday’s power outage meant an extra 2 hours burned in traffic/waiting for the bus. 

All in all, the event was A++++ 10/10 would buy from again! 


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Games in 2015: Summer

June:
Heeeeere's J...urassic Park...y!
This month in Seattle was met with record high temperatures, making sitting inside playing games on a big heat-generating tv a bit of challenge. That said, I got to three of the Telltale Jurassic Park episodes. Each part is ~2 hours each, and is a nice fast gold trophy run.

Another title I started for 30 minutes was Time and Eternity, a hand-drawn, animated RPG. This game was painfully boring, and consisted of 2d jerky character movement over horrible 3d graphics, in a poor battle system. The explorable areas are separated by scenes of talking, talking, talking. Your character envies a cute little dragon because IT gets to bathe with...his wife. That's right, a husband is jealous of an animal that gets to see his wife naked. This game sucks, and stings extra hard because I actually paid money for this, and put it ahead of the 80 free games I have waiting on my PS3 hdd.

I....don't know either. Fun, though!
Lastly is a beautiful anime-sprite action/JRPG called Battle Arena Princess. The story is Japan's usual mix of crazy, cute, and inappropriate comments in some culmination of a very disengaging story. The gameplay is sidescroller beat-em-up, with certain modes where you fight soldiers in the foreground and command an army in the background.

July:
Since I'm traveling, I also started some 3DS games: Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright and Kid Icarus. Prof Layton is a mystery/thriller game with dialogue and cutscenes to power the story from puzzle to puzzle. Some of the puzzles are ashamedly easy, but others are a nice challenge. It's just that the puzzles are so contrived in the story: a character doesn't trust you until you can navigate some witches through a maze. A baker lets you stay the night at her house after you arrange bread in a certain pattern and discard the extra. In typical anime fashion, the girls are all smokin hot, but that's more of an observation than a complaint. The Phoenix Wright side of the game has you reviewing a witness' testimony line by line, and objecting when something s/he says doesn't matched up with your inventory of evidence.
It's pretty satisfying when it works!

Cheeky as hell...
Kid Icarus: Uprising is awesome except for one thing. The controls are really screwy: it's a rail shooter, so you use the circle pad to dodge and move, and the L-button to fire, resulting in hand cramps for me. You aim with the stylus. You also drop the 3DS and curse the developers for shitty controls. The music is great, the graphics are cool, and the banter between Pit and the Goddess Palutena is a hoot! There's a sliding difficulty scale that has you bet hearts (points) to get more hearts, to buy weapons n stuff. The level design is also reaaaaaaly awesome, especially when you go through Pandora's Labyrinth as the creepy, aloof entity becomes the butt of a lot of jokes. It's nice to have a hero that talks some shit!

August

Burnout is such a better game!
I caved in and bought a PS4! My first title was free: Drive Club, in all its 16GB glory. I figured a car game would be a great showcase for new-fangled current-generation graphics. Boy, was I wrong. This game looks about as good as Burnout Paradise on PS3. The cars look alright, but the surrounding environments are bland, and the racetrack spectators look horrid. I didn't have much hopes for gameplay, as Burnout Takedown and Revenge are pretty much the only good racing games that exist. Going in loops just isn't that fun if your car doesn't take damage and you can't ruin your other racers' days by nudging them into a pillar, bus, or cafe front!

Bringing the battle to Seattle.
Now, I've borrowed the super-enjoyable Infamous: Second Son. This game is a little more pretty, but everyone knows it'll be another few years before the PS4 comes out with a game that breaks barriers in technical capabilities. The story has some nice touches! Instead of a generic city, or NYC-based territory, the game takes place in a miniature Seattle, and your lead character-Delson Rowe-is Native American. It is so refreshing not to play a run-of-the-mill white character, and his loyalty to his tribe has a minor impact to the overall story. The antagonist is a woman who appears utterly ruthless until you get to the very end. Delson is able to absorb powers from people, and also learns their backgrounds and motivations. When you finally see her story, it's not really enough to deter you from wanting to get even, but it is a nice bit of depth to take in. I finished the good karma playthrough; now I'm doing Expert mode and am on the evil path.

Next on my list is Final Fantasy XIII.3 Lightning Returns. I played the prologue and it's such a different game, which I hope will grow on me.

American Airlines - no dignity, no pride, no class.

I know that we Americans are the best in the universe at hyperbolizing, but American Airlines is the worst airline in existence. Here's the letter I recently sent to their email, because agents no longer talk to you directly. Ohh, and heads up, US Airways and AA are the same company.

"I'm 22 hours late to my destination. 1) My 6pm got rebooked to 6am the next day. Then, 2) that 6AM *takeoff was aborted on the runway (USXXXX). I was rebooked to a later flight that was supposed to give me a 5 hour layover in PHI, but 3) [US XXXX] has gotten delayed over an hour so far, and the airport kiosks aren't reflecting that. There are no agents here, either.

*While I appreciate their safety concerns, a company that just pocketed $1.7bn in 3 months shouldn't be flying broken planes.

"At least it's the weekend, but we're starting to encroach on my work and wages. To you, these are isolated events. To me and several other customers, this is one long frustrating ride from an airline that makes headlines about record profits. I absolutely can not imagine this being an acceptable business practice, and feel that I have absolutely no recourse against you, AA/USAirways. I want you to know that you can get away with this kind of treatment without consequences, but it would be really nice if someone read this and tried to make your service match your image. I see you have the big money, but from an experience like this, it looks like you could spend it helping customers get from point A to B at least somewhat closely to the times we see when we purchase tickets."

This guy knows what's up: No (au bon) Pain, no gain!
As I write this post, I overheard someone say that the departure agents at the front of the airport were told them to sit at the gate by 3 just in case they can make up time.

It's also worth noting that my originating flight from Seattle to Baltimore, via Alaska Air, was flawless. It fit the schedule precisely, and there were absolutely no hiccups, like flight should be. If this ends up delaying enough so that I can't go into work on time tomorrow, this will reach the point where it really was more viable to pay more money on Expedia to get assigned a different airline. I've already had to feed myself for an extra 2 *meals.

*good, delicious, fantastic, wonderful. I got to eat Au Bon Pain (not found in Seattle) and Popeye's (not good in Seattle).

Sorry, people. This is incredibly whiny for a relatively minor inconvenience to my otherwise stellar life. However, if no one talks about it, then nothing will ever get done about it. Accepting that businesses can walk all over us peons isn't how to get them to change themselves. Why not call them on their pledges, promises and mission statements?


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bring it on, gaming industry!

Now that developers are delivering complex and realistic contexts for us to experience, I have a couple gripes with modern gaming.
Thanks for the three choices...

One thing that makes me roll my eyes is games that don't allow you to assign your own buttons/controls.
I appreciate the developers carefully thinking out a scheme that works optimally for most players. However, I think the characters' actions are designed before the input. This means that unassigned, custom controls are something so painfully simple to implement in control options that I can't think of a good defense for not including them. It's like only having a red house available as your option. At some point after the house was built, there was a stage where the house wasn't painted, and passing along the burden of painting it is something easier for the builder to do. 

That's what daddy likes...PS4 lets you
manually reassign for the system

Except I see at least half of the games I play with no customization. Even more insulting is when a PC game does this. To tie this gripe into something more meaningful; there was a story of a disabled gamer who was able to rig his own device to play games. The catch was that he required those games to have assignable buttons. So, not only do I look at shooters that use the shoulder button as fire instead of the trigger with absolute distaste (I'm looking at you Spec Ops: The Line, and Uncharted), this guy is getting robbed of these games entirely because game studios are taking a "Daddy knows best," approach. Well lay off the crackpipe, Dad, R trigger/R2 is the only way to fire! Lack of customizable controls doesn't bring any benefits, but including them does. Gamers who really like your control scheme will use it; others like me may lose favor; and people like the McGuyver of Disabled Gaming don't get to experience some games at all.

Yep.
The second tired thing in gaming is the white male lead. There are articles about it here, and PBS Game Show did an episode about it. That doesn't mute my voice, though. I'm tired of playing in worlds with only white people. I live in Washington State, for crying out loud, I know what white people look like. Some of my favorite games are lead by white characters: God of War and Uncharted stand out. At least God of War's Kratos was voiced by a black person, and the Uncharted series delivered really interesting, flushed out characters, and also had foreign languages.

But I knew Master Chief was white before the absolutely unnecessary face reveal, and most of the western RPGs are just wall-to-wall whiteness. Even if you can design your character to be black as midnight, usually the voice is so obviously white.

I guess only light skinned humans survive into 2100s...eesh.
There is also that core of people that love to call street black language "racist," even though quite a bit of people sound like that. It's one thing to have the only black character in a story sound like that and drop random n-bombs; it's another to have a character who speaks the language in his or her own way because of their background. Or whatever. The Mass Effect Trilogy was disappointing in this regard: all 3 games, my superficially black character sounded like Captain Janeway from Star Trek Voyager, not the Kenyan princess I had imagined. This is my complaint as a black gamer, but I imagine other minorities feel a bit peeved playing the same racial stock over and over.

My last gripe is that game development focus is all screwed up. While Microsoft and Sony are too busy converging on PCs, Nintendo is the last company trying to innovate. New IP is rare, and the last two generations are mostly franchise favorites. The difference is that Nintendo always tries to make gameplay center around the latest gimmick in their systems. For example, while PS4 games are touting 60fps and Xbox one holds the crown for awesome marketplaces, Metroid and Zelda have you using the Wii wand to aim your arm cannon and swing your sword. The Wii U versions use the Wii U pad's screen for inventory and map management, while all the action happens on your main tv. Nintendo's gameplay additions fundamentally change the experience, whereas the Sony and Microsoft counterparts simply look prettier.

smarm alert!
The Xbox One Kinect is so well-integrated; voice commands work well, motion capture is great, but so many titles don't utilize these features because Microsoft was too worried about chasing dollars to try and become its own console. Sony's Move sucks, and they should have given up on motion-capture this generation and focused on controller-in-hand games.

The biggest shame is that console gaming development is shifting in Japan to mobile games, and all that aforementioned innovation is on its way down the toilet. I cry about this into my pillow at night.

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