Monday, December 26, 2016

Games in December: 2016's last update

Last week, I guest starred on my friends Zack and Damon's 100th episode of their podcast, Videogames and Sushi. During the show, we talked about memorable gaming moments in 2016. At the time of this post, the episode is still in editing, but it will come any day, now! That means I can spill the beans. My favorite titles of the year were Doom, Overwatch and Final Fantasy XV. Doom scratched an itch that was building over the years. If Halo is too corny, Destiny is too boringly desolate, and Battlefield is set too far back in history, then Doom's gritty setting, fast-paced gunplay, and minimal story exposition worked to make it stand out among the flood of FPS games on the modern systems.

Movin with the payload♪
Blizzard doesn't make bad games, and Overwatch is no exception. My passionate gripes have simmered down a bit since November. An overhaul to the still-kinda-sucky loot system upped the frequency of treasure boxes to unlock content faster. I still feel that some characters need some reductions (Mei and Junkrat), and the game is old enough now that everyone you play against is a master at playing it. That's not a technical issue; it just makes the game harder, and less enjoyable for me, personally.

Final Fantasy XV was such a fantastic experience, and I really felt like the product met its ambitious plan. I would have liked to see more diversity in humans and even some other races, and there were some questionable gaps in storytelling, but the positives so completely outweigh the negatives that this was one of my most enjoyable parts in a great year for gaming.

My 2 games in, 1 game out policy came out to a shameful 1.4 games completed for games bought. This should of course be as close to 2 as possible. A few things influenced this: completed is only counting games I can confidently sell, as I've finished storylines and extra accomplishments to get the platinum trophy or 100%; and the flash sales where I just couldn't resist buying indie titles that were $3-7. In reality, for the 1000 hours I spent gaming this year, I played more like 50 games and spent about $300 total.

I would also like to thank my readers for taking me to 3,000 views at the beginning of the year, all the way to almost 6,500! In terms of blogging 2016 was gaming-centric because there really weren't many positive things to say about the year. Next year has a promising video game lineup, but I also hope to find other things that make me happy to write about, and make you happy to read about. Peace out yall!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

FFXV: Expectations met PLUS

Final Fantasy XV is a masterpiece. The battle system is fun, if simple, the music is some of the best, and the characters are the most thoroughly developed of any game in the Final Fantasy legacy.

Prince Noctis warping around the battlefield
Battles: Random encounters, which I never minded, are completely gone, and your conflicts seamlessly transition into a hack and slash fest, with some dodging and weaving. While you only ever control one character, the AI characters are battle-competent. However, there's always a weakling in the bunch, and, while not as frustrating as Edge from FFIV, Prompto is 99% why I ever used items. The camera proved to be a pain because trees and bushes block your camera view, and setting the distance to far just loses so much of the battle intensity. Luckily, you get treated to at least 5 different battle themes that do a lot for fighting in FFXV.

Even though you unlock popular tracks from past games in the series to jam to as you explore, FFXV's own soundtrack is gorgeous and quite operatic. I thought the series took a massive dive in memorable music tracks after Nobuo Uematsu left after FF IX, and composer Yoko Shimomura has brought the quality back with a vengeance, after almost 10 games.

food looks hella real, and this is one of Noct's favorites
Despite having "fantasy" in the title, this game has details of everyday life almost on par with GTA V. You can fish, cook, take photos, go on pleasure drives, and listen to old FF game music as you do so. The 4 friends banter spontaneously, and you get a great sense of their personality in some of the most natural character development I've ever seen in gaming. I truly cared about all the peril my characters were in during the story, and a particular scene at the end of the game brought on the man tears.

Aside from the quips and quotes in and out of battle, the smaller details are the random amount of actions your bros take during car rides: Prompto (the wisecracking photographer) will turn around and stand up in the car, waving his arms while telling a story, Ignis (the level-headed nerd) will drink his favorite coffee, Ebony, and hand it back to one of the passengers before placing it in the cup holder, and Gladio (the warrior who centers the party's emotions) will whip out a book and read. Although you can teleport between points on the HUGE map, watching these very varied interactions make the game feel very organic.

The other thing to down vote about this story is the dreadful relationship between Prince Noctis and Princess Lunafreya. Not only do the two never meet up, but they are completely unromantic and don't even seem like good friends. It was the worst-written part of the experience, and the Kingsglaive movie that came out didn't really shed much light on their relationship beyond establishing that they were childhood friends. During the game, you get even less of that, as you two basically write dry letters to one another. Who signed off on that?

However, besides the occasional battle camera flaw and the poorly-done man-woman relationship, there are plenty of other things to gush about and enjoy from one of the top games in the series. This game is a must for people who want something for a new console that isn't an FPS. I'd recommend Final Fantasy XV to anybody.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

October-November gameSlog

Boy, it's been an interesting bunch of weeks, with the election, legendary Dave Chappelle hosting SNL, my new job at an animal hospital, and of course, being frugal and beating games! The first update I want to share is how I've been doing on my 2-in, 1-out policy with games. This year, I bought 12 games. Checking my trophy list, I have completed 21 games, so I'm almost on schedule for 2016.

October: Overwatch, The Swapper (FREE PS+), Peggle 2 (FREE PS+), Saint's Row: Gat out of Hell (FREE PS+).

The Swapper is a space puzzle platform game, where you make clones of yourself and transport between them to collect glowy disco-balls. Space games always make me feel pretty lonely, and this game is no exception. After collecting a certain amount of balls, you can progress to the next area, and the are sentient rock-aliens that fill in the story. I completed about half of the puzzles without much stress, and never felt like there were any cheap tricks. Strangely, the trophies have nothing to do with completing the game - instead you find 10 secret rooms throughout the large map. With a walkthrough by my side, this was an enjoyable 90-minute venture to the 100%.

The girl on the left is normally creepier...
Peggle 2 has really tight physics - a necessity for a pachinko-style game. The game was originally a mobile game, and was actually made by a Seattle studio (woot-woot!). While there are 200+ levels containing various arrangements of blue and orange pegs, you can choose from 7 different characters with different special abilities to help clear them. I have to give the game proper respect for its sound design. The score has public domain music like Symphony No 9 and In the Hall of the Mountain King, but remixed so cleverly that you'll barely recognize it. To top it off, the sound effects for bouncing balls and special abilities match the characters and their themes very well.

Ohh, and you can fly in Hell, too!

Saint's Row: Gat out of Hell was a pleasant surprise. GTA games are massive productions, and certainly have their funny parts; Saint's Row games just don't take themselves seriously at all. There are several comedy songs (which I generally abhor), and the main characters are full of hilarious comments. I thought that making hell into a futuristic downtown was a super-cool idea, and the platnium trophy can be done in co-op!

November: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Bioshock 1 remastered, Bioshock Infinite DLC (PS3), Resogun (PS Flash sale $4).

I wrote about CoD: IW in another post, and just want to add that after finishing the awesome single player campaign, I am plagued by the final 20% of trophies in Zombies in Spaceland. The mode is generally pretty hard - in later rounds, despite hordes of zombies, one or two hits will put you down. The problem is that the trophies have you completing so many steps that I'll just end up boosting it, and probably having each player responsible for one of the many convoluted tasks.

The bees!!!
The remastered Bioshock 1 was a familiarly fun experience of a game with superior storytelling and world-building. A lot of alternate-dimension or futuristic stories take place, and don't analyze how they got there as well as Bioshock does, and that's a large part of the appeal of this game. On top of that, it's a very well-made FPS game that every gamer needs to experience.

The Bioshock DLCs really help stress the alternate-dimension theory that I never thought about until the end of Bioshock Infinite, since I am pretty dense when it comes to putting together game storylines.

Resogun is a very-pretty 3d-on-single-plane twinstick shooter. The developer Housemarque has a knack for making super-flashy games like this, as they also did Super Stardust HD for the PS3. Both games are super pretty, with simple mechanics, fun gameplay, and awesome soundtracks. "Super" is just the best word for all of this.

Now that I've reflected on 6 weeks of games, I can now focus on Final Fantasy XV, my most anticipated release this year, which should be arriving in just a few hours!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Well, I thought it was cool...

Disclaimer: I will not spoil the story more than what you find out in the first 15 minutes of playing. I beat the newest Call of Duty, Infinite Warfare, over its release weekend. The single player campaign is short and pretty damn cool. I really don't understand the online hate for this game; the game is fun, the controls are tight, and the graphics are very very good.

I just can't take this guy seriously...
The setting is a few hundred years in the future, when we have colonized a few of the planets in our solar system. The force you fight has a really cool-looking military, but its "ruthless" leader is a bit of a wuss. I say that because I never found Kit Harrington (John Snow from Game of Thrones) particularly threatening with a giant sword, he's even less so in this game. He just looks like an Ewok: beady-eyed, soft-faced, fuzzy and slightly-confused-looking. That aside, I liked the other characters' soldier-talk, camaraderie, and even some of the corny military values. And your ro-bro, Ethan, is totally awesome.

I played Battlefield 1 two weeks before this came out, which was also quite a spectacle, but the aiming feels swimmy, as it always has with the series. Infinite Warfare has really responsive snap targeting that give your assaults a special pop for each kill. As with all shooters, I can barely distinguish the weapons, but the bullet-alternative energy weapons make shredding robots to bits a lot of fun. Toss in wall running and double jumps, and this game feels like playing pilots in Titanfall, which is not a bad thing at all. And space combat is an absolute pleasure.

This game has a graphic or two...
The game will eat a large section of your harddrive to install, but the loading time is minimal, and I didn't see any re-used faces among the hundred or so soldiers you interact with throughout the campaign. My PS4 also doesn't get as noisy as playing Doom or Wolfenstein, so this AAA title was also put together well.

Zombies in Spaceland is my least favorite
mode, but it's not bad!
I really like CoD: Infinite Warfare, and I have a suspicion that all the hate for this game is related to the $50 season pass they're selling at launch, that gives you access to the next 4 expansions, making suckers shell out over $100 to play everything. The game is divided into 3 parts: the single-player campaign, the predictably classic multiplayer, and the co-op Zombies mode. The devs did trophy hunters a favor here: the only collectibles are to find every weapon in the campaign, which are outlined in yellow as you come across them. For multiplayer, you only have to win 5 matches. I think the co-op Zombies mode is pretty hard, but I think I can have the platinum trophy without too much grief before FFXV comes out at the end of the month, my only other huge release left in 2016. I'll let you know how that goes!

What do you think about the game's modes? What do you love or hate about this game or series? Do you think zombie modes are as played out as I do?

Monday, October 24, 2016

October TV brown-out!

My media consumption was at an absolute maximum this month, as I had the pleasure of watching Luke Cage, and starting The Get Down, two very different shows with a whole lotta brothas and sistas and chicas. There are no blatant spoilers here, and any info is revealed in the first episode of either show.

Love the cast of Luke Cage.
The first season of Luke Cage was a great pro-black experience, and you see that first and foremost in the language and music. While The Wire (HBO) still holds the crown for most authentic dialogue, Cage has some points. There's street talk for sure--they are in Harlem--but that's not the only kind of voice you hear. Luke actively discourages the use of the n-word by calling it out every time, and is very less-than-smooth with the ladies. You have to look pretty hard to find an uneducated thug or smooth-talking archetype in this show.

Another favorite thing about the show is the music. One of the main locations is a nightclub, and most of the episodes give us a chance to see some really great funk, jazz and hiphop artists perform as we get into the mind or a witness a key conversation of the antagonist, who owns the nightclub.

My last point is about how strong the women are in Luke Cage. While Cage himself can certainly punch through walls, the strongest and most vicious characters are all female, and they're very convincing. Mariah Dillard has a dark side that's quite scary. This strikes me because I've never seen the actress Alfre Woodard in anything but lighthearted comedies and dramas, but I certainly believe her. In Luke Cage, she's trying to make Harlem a better place through politics, has to shed her family's gangster image. The Dillards run shit in Harlem, but outsiders wouldn't see that as something to respect.

If you're also familiar with the show Jessica Jones (Netflix), or at least know the actress Krysten Ritter, it's hard to make her punching through walls and flipping over men twice her size look good; and it doesn't. I really enjoyed that show, but some of her "strong" moments were entirely unconvincing to me. To bring it back to Luke Cage, though, the most violent moments and the coldest, sharpest words were delivered by women.

The Get Down also takes place in Harlem, but is centered around music. The main character is a young lyricist who is about to change his life by forming a rap crew, and you'll have to excuse me if that summary is wildly inaccurate. I've seen 2 episodes of the first season, and that's what I've deduced. I like the show for the REALLY good rhymes, the gorgeous actresses and its coherence, which I'd like to expand on.

I barely made it through one episode of Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon), and didn't really like Treme (HBO). Both shows were about the life of musicians, but I think they were written for people who live like that because they were laden with idiosyncrasies that were lost on me. I think the world of musicians has a lot of eccentric people, and the crazy maestro in Mozart was just frustrating to watch. I suffered through 3 hours of Treme because I figured the same writers of The Wire could get me again. I know the marching bands in New Orleans was well-researched and performed, but I couldn't find any semblance of a narrative, and it felt like I was just watching a bunch of people do stuff. I totally missed the point of that show.

The Get Down's narrative is tighter, and has so far focused on 2 main groups of friends. I see their relationships and motivations for what they want to do with their musical talents, and that makes it easier for me to follow, and it doesn't hurt that the actresses are fine as hell.

Last note: I'm glad neither show spends too much time whining about blacks versus whites. Luke Cage has a theme about injustice in general, but the message is more about communities helping themselves instead of pointing the finger. Racism only takes a minor part in the background, but neither show is out to blame white people for black problems, and I think that makes both shows more appealing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Games of 2016: Fall stuff

Mom came to visit!
September 6th marked the end of PAX, and any major time obligation, as I'm taking some time out of the work force for myself. That means a whole lot more gaming! While I spend about 8 hours a day cursing at the screen, I've also had quiet reflection time, reading, and going to the gym 3 days a week. Frugally, I'm doing another freezer/pantry cleanout, and managed to get through 3 weeks of September with only $50 or so spent on groceries, including junk food for hanging out. I think the biggest stress is feeling guilty about all the things I'm not doing while unemployed, like earning money and working on relationships, but ahh well. I'm still keeping away from the slippery slope of graduating laziness, and will get back on financial track.

September's game time was half devoted to Overwatch, and the rest of the time spread out among Lords of the Fallen (free, PS+), Gems of War (free-to-play), Guitar Hero Live ($38 game+guitar bundle on sale), Kill Strain (free-to-play) and some new games Qurare (free-to-play), Furi (free, PS+), and Gone Home (free, PS+).

Overwatch is getting on my nerves. The unlock system is crap, and the ever-persisting problem with competitive games looms. That's right, you win 2 rounds in a best 3 out of 5 game, and one of your team members quits. Everyone's screwed because Blizzard couldn't think of a better way to fix it.

Lords of the Fallen was described to me as Dark Souls Lite. The combat requires some patience - take time to block and dodge as you learn the enemies' attack patterns before going in for the offensive. There's a lot of backtracking, and things have certainly become better after a dozen hours of gameplay.

Ahh yes, Gilgam--hoooly shit!
Qurare is a mobile anime card game that was ported to PS4. The entire game is so poorly explained that I'll have to do my best. After mercifully skipping the dialogue, you first run 2 minute through a hall, picking up stuff to level your character, on your way to a battle. During battles, you have 6 offense/defense/effect cards that you actively manage while the computer controls your actual attacking. I skip the dialogue because it's filled with vapid nonsense. The context is that you're all (crazy hot) librarians that are finding codices (the cards you control) who are all based on literary characters. I'm currently trying to beat Gilgamesh, pictured right, with my half-naked busty mummy pictured below, gothic lolita-style Don Quixote, and young sexy nun-healer, in my deck. We can deduce that a bunch of horny developers made Qurare to be played with no hands. The theme of literary references are cool, but have absolutely no resemblance to their inspiration. By the way, you can get costumes to boost XP, gold and other resources. So, if you swap your tall, leggy, big-breasted scientist-librarian's lab coat and turtle-necked sweater for...a cat get extra resources in battle. I actually feel dumber for playing this game, but the trophies are pretty easy, from what it looks like. This game might win an award for shallowest game I've ever played.
If you level her up, she gets more

Furi is hard as shit, with long segments of story between epic boss battles. You can zip around, slash, shoot and parry, and that's it. The 8 or so fights in the game take 10-20 minutes each, and I've died MANY times. Great art style, though!

Just...searching for notes and looking through drawers, shelves and
behind doors to learn about characters. That's Gone Home.

Gone Home was a 2-hour 100% trophies journey. There are no enemies, and one trophy is to beat the entire game in under 60 seconds. You explore a house and learn about the relationships of the people there. That's it.

As of October, I have finally gotten the last trophy for Gems of War, totally at least 120 hours of gameplay. This might be the best free-to-play game offered on PS4, not counting the monthly PS+ freebies. Also, Kill Strain has gotten an October overhaul: you can join games as a party, now, 2 more characters were unlocked for free, and there are some new animations to flush out the graphics. Guitar Hero has a trophy where you have to login 10 days in a row...took 18 consecutive logins to work for me, but at least it worked.

I hope to be more consistent with blog entries, and have great news that after 6 weeks, I will be joining the workforce again!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Working PAX West 2016

Spareboard XA. That's what I am this year! The line-managing, person-directing, go-getter that works 40 hours over 4 days. Normally, the Exhibition Hall Assistant (XA) is usually assigned to a booth, like Capcom, and handles one or several of the tasks mentioned above for a dainty 5-hour shift. What I'm doing is hanging around, shootin' the breeze for a half hour, and then being dispatched out for crowd control. Day one's tasks were telling people not to run when we opened doors, escorting e-sports celebrities and finally managing the line -- NO CUTS--for Destiny's latest episode. The hardest part about everything is being on your feet so long...There was also a 1000 piece dragon puzzle that was put together by the end of the day. I'm lucky enough to have avoided any crises. Trying to catch a bus out of Downtown Seattle was the most nerve-fraying experience of the day, but what else is new?

Day Two was mostly managing the line for a very thankful Bungie as they did a Destiny tournament. The booth had a 3' x 3' ghost made of MegaBlocks, as well as a Warlock cosplay that caused some foot traffic management on my part to minimize congestion. The day was interrupted by a massive headache that aspirin just wasn't a match for. When I went back to the e-sports players, I actually watched them play my current PC favorite: Heroes of the Storm. I run the game on my 6-year-old laptop, and it was bonkers to see the best players in the region play on dedicated gaming PCs. Very smoothness. Pretty graphic. Wow.

I had him in my sights

Capped off Day Two meeting Darth Maul and Capt. Picard, and playing Street Fighter V. Ohh yeah, and there was a new puzzle!

Humans created the holodeck before the Enterprise...

Day Three I hit my stride. Most of the day I was assigned to Nvidia, with their 3 VR stations. The big draw was a 30-minute 4-player Star Trek mission where the players entered the bridge of the Enterprise. This means that a line of 18 people is a 3.5 hour wait with prep and rotation times. The issues were that people were trying to make a line to get into the official line, which we couldn't do, but all the issues of, "I got here first," were solved quickly and quietly. The last day of the show, a woman came with her family, and was almost in tears when I turned her away. It turns out she had followed them around for the first 3 days of the show, and wasn't into video games. She was a huge Star Trek fan, and when I discretely made an exception, she burst into tears and even hugged me before sitting down the 5 hours to get her chance on the bridge. I started tearing up, too and I really didn't know my best memory of PAX 2016 would be letting someone in line. 

I also ended up taking over for one of the zone leaders during their lunch break. It was the perfect opportunity for something to go wrong: turns out AMD had picket signs and was staging a protest in front of Nvidia's booth. I waved off what I thought was the problem, but apparently I missed it. This leads me to one of my largest misunderstandings about my role at PAX. During training, they referred to us as problem-solvers and used the word 'problem,' all over the place. I picked up my definition of problem from 10 years of teaching and would equate it to fighting students, repeated issues with turning in homework, or a natural disaster. This fake protest and annoyance registered as a problem, and people asked me if I had reported it to our supervisors. Eventually it was properly escalated and the two rival companies made up.

Ensign Mawz saw an opening on da bridge

This time, I met Capt. Picard again, and we played the first Halo on the original Xbox, with the largest controllers ever.

The picture is brighter because a Flash was used

Day four's morning meeting was met with some disappointing news about the show that I can't share with you. I can tell you that my Spareboard XA shift means that I only have my lunch break to see interesting booths, but should be resting during that time. This means that I'm working during most of the swag opportunities, and have almost no chance to get free stuff from the show. I'm still glad I did PAX 2016, will get paid for it, and even made a friend on the last day!

Friday, August 26, 2016

End of Games of Summer 2016

Opposites attract and same colors repel, as you get dynamic
control over your polarization to jump through these
puzzles. Ohh, and one-hit-deaths.
This month has been a doozy! I've played 3 new games this month, starting with a free PS+ game called Teslagrad. The former is a hand-drawn puzzle platformer, with no vocals or dialogue, with a pretty short playthrough. I like the game's campaign length, and simplicity. You get an ability to teleport short distances, and an ability to polarize red or blue, which attracts or repels objects including yourself. Otherwise, you collect 36 objects for 36 trophies, and that's it.

Frickin jam out to Chop Suey!
Guitar Hero Live has a very premium presentation. In Live mode, you play sets of 3-4 songs in front of a live audience, and the whole thing is live-action, recorded in super-crisp first person. This is one of the best versions of the view I've ever seen. Your band members are a tad overdone and you'll spot the acting, but GHL is an ambitious project that succeeds. As if this offline component wasn't sweet enough, you can also play GHTV, the 24/7 drop in/drop out continuous streaming of songs. There are at least 100 free songs, each with their own music video as you haul ass on the guitar. The controls have been overhauled from 5 keys down the neck to a more-compact 3x3, which was surprisingly easy to pickup after playing at least 10 guitar games with the 1x5 layout. The trophy path is challenging, but not as hard as some of the past games. I think one of those games had you play ~100 songs in a row without failing or pausing, or some complete garbage. The hardest one in GH Live might be hitting all notes in 4 songs on the hardest difficulty...or 1 song 4 times. Otherwise, there is playing the online mode for a total of 24 hours, and strumming the guitar 1 million times, which just take some perseverance.

This month also saw the win-some-lose-some release of No Man's Sky, which disappointed a decent amount of people in the same way that I was disappointed with Dangerous Golf. I'm not one for sandbox games, and really didn't care about No Man Sky's potential. I just don't do games that don't have goals, and games that have long completion times better be the cream of the crop. I hope the people who were disappointed with the game get a magic patch with all the missing gameplay features they're waiting for and a little stability...I'll keep my eyes forward for Final Fantasy XV.

Think...Marvel Ultimate Alliance + StarCraft
A free PS+ title this month is Kill Strain, which is pretty much what the dismal failure Evolve should have been. The game currently only has one map, with a dozen playable characters. Each match takes about 20 25 minutes, and starts 4 v 4 v 2. 8 of those players use human characters from several classes and try to kill either the other human team or the Strain team. The Strain team has its own unique 3 classes, and a small chance to infect a human after killing them. When this happens, the Strain team grows in number, as the previously-human player now joins the Strain team. Having one map, and only 250 players online at a given time, the game could use a little flushing out. However, from reviews of Evolve, this free game has a decent chance to run the full-priced game a run for its money.

Other than that I am still plugging away at Overwatch and Gems of War.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

August update

July's monthly goal of eating the contents of my freezer and pantry was a bust. The purpose of doing this was to prevent a buildup, keep items from spoiling or losing taste from being frozen, curb food shopping expenses for the month. I didn't quite make it through all of the 6 packs frozen vegetables, and there's a tube of chorizo that I should use pronto. Everything else, like ramen, the 4 cans of beans and tomatoes, and Trader Joe's meals still has a very long shelf life. My girlfriend moved in near the end of the month, and brought her stored food as well, derailing the mission.

I have been chosen to volunteer over Labor Day weekend for PAX! That was a relief, though the position I'll be working is apparently 12-hour shifts, and will probably deal with a lot of noise. This is in stark contrast to last year's position at the Handheld Lounge, where I sat in a chair the whole time, talking with fellow volunteers and chatting with people about Pokemon and Final Fantasy.

The day before PAX will be my last day working customer service at my current job. Lots of people would tell me how irresponsible that is - choosing a 4-day convention over stable employment, but I dare you to work customer service for 8 months after having way cushier jobs, and not make the same call. Quitting the company will give me a much-needed kick in the ass to find higher-paying work so I can get back to saving. Let me add, though, that because of my awesome saving, I have a cushion of "f- you money." I recently sold all of my Apple stock - after 1.5 years of mediocre performance - and will be spending that on necessities instead of reinvesting it. This will buy me time to find a job I want more than simply settling as quickly as possible. So, consider the freedom that a chunk of savings can earn you!

The day after PAX is when I say goodbye to my girlfriend for a very long time, as she has to return to Korea. Her student and work visas have run out after 5 years, and so has the money. The plan is for her to work in her home country, and blow her savings every couple months to visit, but the frugal part of me is shaking my head. I think the best option would be for me to take a limited teaching term in Japan through a program called Westgate, and visit from there. I'll talk more about that in another post, though.

I've seen a little bit of the Olympics, but since I don't have cable, it's been interesting figuring out how to unconventionally watch something that should be free. I think it's a basic citizen's right to watch countries the Olympics, but NBC doesn't agree with me. Also, Rio has done a splendid job of hosting the Olympics, despite all of the concern. We're only a week in, and I wish the greatest luck and appreciate Brazil for hosting.

Gaming update will come separately, of course.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How Frontier Communications is going to screw me over

Credit score; your financial IQ. It's one of those things that's useful in a handful of contexts, but is prized a little more than it should be. Luckily, I do not plan on taking out a loan in the next 10 years, as I'm flexing frugal muscles for the long haul.

Here's the deal. When I moved into my own place, I figured I would stick it to the larger cable company by going with the smaller guy, Frontier Communications, and I will pay for my insolence. They advertise a $39.99 per month 3Mbps service on a DSL connection with no contract, which is a pretty good deal. Some people get free installations and $40 is all that they pay, which I was told by the representative. After I asked him to sign me up, I was told that there was a $100 fee for a technician to come out to your house and hook up the router, which consists of connecting 2 wires. Well, smart me knows shit about computers, so I opted for the free self-install kit. I was excited for about 10 seconds until the agent saw that my apartment complex wasn't eligible for the self-install kit, but because it was the only option, my fee would be waived. Sweet! 5 days later, the friendly technician comes in and hooks up the connection, telling me that the aforementioned 3Mbps was based on how close you live to the company's station. Shucks. Ahh well, internet is crucial, so I would take whatever I could get at the time.

Installation waived? False.
I used the service for a day and found the speeds so unbearably slow that I scheduled Comcast to start their service the very next day. A week later, when my 30x faster connection was up and running, I called Frontier to cancel the service. I was prepared to pay the $40 monthly fee, chiding myself on how un-frugal it was to have two internet connections at once. 2 weeks later, my first bill arrives for $200.92. Also, the Frontier technician depot is a 15-minute walk from my house, and the $10 shipping/handling fee for the technician bringing the router is almost hilarious.

I called Frontier 4 times, using Skype, another service that doesn't work as well as it should, and 3 of those times, the agents couldn't hear me. I also had to laugh at the absurdity of having connection problems with a communications company.

On the 4th try, the agent was able to hear me, and after 45 minutes, told me that the entire $200 would be prorated for the 6 days the service was active. I have to wait 3 billing cycles to see the adjustment. That's when, 3 weeks later I get the following:

"Please be advised that your account is seriously past due in the amount of $200.92. Your failure to respond to this debt will initiate additional collection proceedings, which may include referral to an outside collection agency within 10 days of this letter."

This company is going to report me to collections? Aww, hell no. I called them back, asking if there were any notes to when I cancelled the service, and whether or not the amount was to be prorated. Nope. When I explained myself, the representative, Dean, told me that he would get the installation fee waived, and that I would see the changes in 3 billing cycles. I recorded that 25-minute phone call to use if shit gets anymore real.

In 2 weeks, it will have been 5 billing cycles since the madness began, and 4 cycles since I talked to Dean.

Since I work customer service, I have to bring up a pet peeve of mine. A lot of consumers will have an issue with a lost package or damaged item, and the company I work for will fix the mistake and apologize. A lot of people will say they got shitty customer service. I would like to say that they had a shitty customer experience. The service I provide is exemplary, and the customer service at Frontier was also nothing but polite agents, and, as I mentioned, a very nice technician. My customer experience, however, with Frontier Communications has been a fucking nightmare. I cannot dis-recommend a company any more than Frontier. Run at all costs. Save yourself, don't try and make a stupid statement like I did.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Games of 2016: Summer

June: Rogue Galaxy ($6 PSN Flash sale), Kalimba (FREE, XBL Gold), Gears of War Judgement (FREE, XBL sharing), King's Quest (FREE, PS+), Grim Fandango (FREE, PS+), Dangerous Golf ($20), Never Alone ($5, PSN Flash sale).

Rogue Galaxy has a sweet battle system
Rogue Galaxy is an action RPG that was pretty highly regarded in its PS2 generation. I find the voice acting and dialogue to be boring and corny. The women are emotional, dainty and useless, and the lead male character is a goody-two-shoes white guy. It has a neat weapon leveling system, but I haven't gotten far enough into the 80-hour-long quest to find something I really like about this game. I have pretty good patience with RPGs, being among those who didn't have a problem with how linear the first 20 hours of FFXIII was. Not sure if I could recommend this yet.

I played Gears of War Judgement like I have the other 3 run-and-gunners in the series: split screen with my best friend over a really fun weekend. This game is brainlessly fun, shooting hundreds of bullets at waves of enemies in a very violent shooter. One point I'd like to bring up is all the hate on how uncreative and franchise-y Call of Duty games are, yet Gears of War is allowed to bask in shallow glory and stupid dialogue. If you like mindless shooters, don't be ashamed and get this one!

Jump. Look. Stop. Look. Jump. Look. Stop. Look.
Kalimba is a colorful indie game that was free on Xbox Gold. The beautiful geometric graphics are pretty, and the controls are simple. The challenge is how brutal the puzzles are. You play as two characters with mirrored controls, when you press left, both characters walk left at the same speed. You can stack one on top of another, and this is especially important in co-op, where you play as 2 sets of twins who can stack really high. There are of course parts of a level that split top and bottom so that you have to negotiate terrain in two separate couples. The game is pretty hard, and I'll leave it at that.

Searching all day to find a good knight.
King's Quest is an update to the series, featuring really gorgeous HD graphics, an easy-to-follow story, and some neat puzzles to solve. The challenge is in remembering details of dialogue to know what certain characters need to progress the story. The story is narrated as an old King Graham telling his granddaughter about his adventures when he was a spry lad and boy are there loads of puns. The nature of the storytelling made me think of Princess Bride, though I couldn't tell you why. If you want an enjoyable 5 hours and have a decent memory, this is your game!

I played Never Alone in one sitting, start to finish. I didn't know what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised to have a really easy game to play with my girlfriend. The game is a very basic platformer, where each of the two characters has abilities that only they can do. The story is a combination of Inupait legends, and during the game you can pop out and watch 2-minute documentaries on parts of the culture. The Inupait are a real group of people who live in remote parts of Alaska, and their ways of life are strongly being affected by global warming. Never Alone was made more to tell its legend and educate, rather than preach about current events. The game is worth buying to support this project, and if you're looking for an easy 2-player game to share with someone who thinks Super Mario Bros is too hard (which I wouldn't blame them!).

Surprisingly, this creepy guy isn't an enemy.

Dangerous Golf has two objectives: destroy everything in the room and then put your ball into the hole. These 2 stages make for some very quick rounds, and the mechanics are dreadful. The game has you move the left thumbstick up to put, no angle, no strength, just tap it and you swing full power. Then, you control the camera sometimes with the right thumb, and you can occasionally accidentally interrupt your ball's bounce by going into the putt phase. I had been really excited for this game, seeing as Burnout Takedown and Revenge were two of my favorite games, and team Criterion had been out of work for 10 years. When I first saw the $20 price tag, my hopes dropped - I'd hoped it would be at lest $40, which would have meant a larger project. Instead, we got this, which looks cheap, has a terrible interface, and uninspired music. To make it worse was that my progress got erased in a glitch. I started a single-player mode, getting through 10 of the 100 levels. Then, I played co-op for a bit, starting over, and when I came back to my single-player progress, it was at 0. I posted about this on Twitter and the team wanted me to show them what happened, so the developer is very willing to try and fix it, but they would need to overhaul the controls and hammer out bugs to make this game worth revisiting.

July: Assault Android Cactus ($5, PS+ Flash sale), Overwatch ($48) and Doom (borrowed).

Magma gun dishes out the d.
Assault Android Cactus is a 4-player arena shooter game that is crazily fun and manic. Enemies will flood your screen as the levels dynamically change, while the music pumps-- and this makes for a kickass experience. This was my vote for March 2016's free PSN game when it was stacked against BroForce and Action Henk, which of course BroForce took the win. This twin stick shooter feels great, controls are responsive, and you will die and retry many many times. Buy this if you want a couch coop shoot em up with mad style points.

And now, the most satisfying FPS game I've played in a long time: Doom (4). Bethesda has done an amazing job of making their 3 big games in the same genre pretty distinct: Dishonored, with a slower-paced stealth, abilities and loot system; Wolfenstein, with it's medium-paced action and weapon-kill challenges; and Doom, a fast-paced, gritty run and gun. One delightful part of the latter two games is that most of the trophy hunting and completing challenges also lead to permanent benefits for your character. There's in-game incentive to doggedly throw yourself at hard challenges, like 5 knife kills in 1 minute, or Glory-Killing 5 monsters from above. Speaking of which, part of Doom's fast pace is the ability to gruesomely finish off enemies that have low health to gain life, ammo and armor back. When you do this Glory Kill, you are invincible to enemies during your 1-second animation.

imp G(l)ory Kill. Sock to the face, pull out unspecified organ.
Doom rules. There are 5 difficulties, and I played the whole game on the second one and died a LOT. None of the bosses proved much of a challenge, but getting swarmed and backing up into vicious, clawing imps will happen a lot. The story and map directions are easy to follow and secrets didn't feel cheap or obscure. I am 98% of the way to the platinum trophy in 10 days of playing. I just have to finish the first level on Ultra Nightmare difficulty: enemies can kill you in two hits, health recovery and ammo are scarce, and there are no checkpoints.

Overwatch is one of the most addictive games ever made and consumes most of my free time. I currently play Mercy, Reinhardt, Zarya and Symmetra, lately. I feel bad for Battleborn, which is the same kind of game with more features, that just had the unfortunate timing of competing against Blizzard.

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...