FFXIV ARR: It Somehow Exists

Hyur Guy

FFXIV probably should have been shut down. It most likely should have become free to play with your typical cash shop set up, waiting for those “whales” to drop hundreds of dollars into it. It was by far mostly regarded as a train wreck of an MMO. At the very least it seemed like a really expensive misguided project. Yet it’s still alive. Not only alive but coming back with a subscription model. FFXIV is not likely to be everyone’s cup of tea but as people of our hobby I think it’s fairly interesting seeing this game going through such a unique metamorphoses.

Sometimes my character would just stand there toe to toe with a monster after I had depleted it’s HP to zero. Only for it to collapse after awkwardly looking at me as if it forgot what it’s role was in a scene of a stage play. Beta hiccups! I told myself that many times with a myriad of other issues that came up. After a few months of playing I had given up. Nothing had really improved, this is just a bad game. A lot of FFXIV was poorly optimized. At the very least it felt like it wasn't ready to be sold. Strangely enough you can see production value in various spots of the game but then sorely lacking in others. Setting aside it’s networking issues, fairly obvious things like map design were atrocious. The best maps were the one’s with the least details because a barren landscape didn't have much way of copy and pasted landmarks. The game was so bad that SE decided to make it free to play and retooled it’s staff.

Legacy Player Mark (screen by Winteredsnow)

I only kept track of FFXIV’s progress off hand. All I knew is that some guy called Yoshi P was in charge now. I think it’s important to note the crazy people that stuck with the game. Dedicated players that saw something in this hot mess that others didn't. If it wasn't for them the current FFXIV may not exist the way it does now. My general understanding is that the current development team created and improved content while working on the big change, the so called FFXIV 2.0. Going as far as justifying it through lore, they tore apart the old FFXIV to recreate it. What’s cool about this is that all along the development process Yoshida and staff communicate a lot with the community. Even having one to two hour live streams taking suggestions and answering questions. It’s a little more common in the western world of video games, but what about Japanese? As far as I know not too common being this transparent or directly communicating with community. The only thing that really comes to mind are the developer commentary videos for Bayonetta. FFXIV ARR connects it’s relaunch with it’s player base. Old players, or “Legacy” players have become warriors of light. Very much in a Final Fantasy fashion players were saved by being sent into the future their bodies bearing a mark of survival. Besides keeping original characters their introduction and some NPC dialogue differs from normal players. It’s not that big of story deviation as one would like but cool nonetheless.

Yoshida wants FFXIV to be a successful pay to play MMO in a free to play world. It’s uncertain on how this will shake out, but he does have some decent points for the pay model. Thinking back on all the MMO and free to play games I’ve played I always gave up for the same reasons. Setting aside games that were just low production value and/or bad, good games were led to ruin because of how the cycle of pay items went. There aren't many DOTA 2’s around that seem to have this stuff down in a way that seems fair. After participating in the beta I can say that I want to play more of FFXIV ARR, probably every night for a while. I’m going to subscribe to this game without a problem. That said, any MMO’s true merit is shown months down the line when content starts to run dry. Will we have more things to do? If Yoshi P has his way there should be. Quite a few people want to believe so at least.

It’s nuts that FFXIV ARR exists in it's current form, or at all. A Square Enix pay to play MMO based off a failed pay to play MMO with a Japanese development team tasked to fix an expensive mistake being communicative and transparent with it’s fan base while actually showing positive results as of it’s beta. It’s kind of neat.

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Streaming With OBS

TL;DR Version!

  • XSplit is a resource hog and expensive kind of bad for streaming.
  • XSplit is great for game capture and having scenes for recording gameplay/desktop stuff.
  • OBS is free, runs and performs miles better than XSplit for streaming.
  • Streaming is pretty fun, you should try it~

Links

Twitch

Stream site we all know about.

OBS

Free open source streaming software.

Liteyear Rhombus

Some channels I like to watch.

The People That Actually Read Things Version

Okay, now that the cool kids are gone let's get into it! Just to clarify, I am in no way an expert or someone that's super tech savvy. I am however someone that streams regularly and has dozens of games played to completion on stream. Over that time I learned a lot about how to stream and what seems to work best for me. Just keep in mind that this is just the way I prefer to do it, with what I know works for me and friends I've helped set up. I'd love to see more stream channels out there, I think it can be pretty entertaining or just a nice distraction in the background while doing stuff. When I browse Twitch looking for new channels it's always a bummer seeing people having a myriad of issues that can easily be avoided. Ranging from audio to video or some weird thing they're doing. I always want to help them out, but I don't want to come across like a dick or a know-it-all so I end up doing nothing. To help remedy that a tiny bit I just want to help spread the word about OBS and some simple steps to help start a stream or improve one already. So I'll share my setup and what software/hardware has worked for me.

Streaming Checklist!

Good CPU

Decent Video Card

Good Upload Speed

Capture Hardware (optional)

Capture & Encoding Software (OBS in this case)

USB Headset or Desktop Microphone (Optional.. kinda)

Second Monitor (Optional)

The first bottleneck your stream will need to go through is your CPU. Your CPU is going to be doing a ton of work while you stream! Besides running your computer it will play your game and or capture software. More importantly It will be encoding the video to pump it to the stream. Your CPU is one of the deciding factors of how good your stream can look, and even how well your games will run if you play from the same PC. I had my I7 975 at factory speed of 3.3GHz and I was sometimes able to do 420p 30FPS. After over clocking to 4.2 GHz I stream at 720p 60 FPS sometimes higher or lower depending on the game.

The second major bottleneck your stream will face is upload speed. This is like the pipeline to your stream. Your bandwidth decides how good your stream can look despite your CPU's best efforts. Keep in mind that online games use this as well, so to stream and play multiplayer you need a hefty upload speed. I use to have an upload speed of 900kbps tops. I streamed at 800kbps, depending on the games I’d stream between 240p ad 480p at 30 FPS. After upgrading to an upload speed of 5.1 MBps I can pretty much stream at my CPU’s limits.

A decent video card helps run games played off your PC much better. OBS also makes use of your video card for down scaling purposes. Capture hardware is needed for console streaming. It actually takes up less CPU power than playing a game off the same computer. So you can encode a lot easier this way. A word of warning though, a majority of HD capture gear does not capture older games. You need to make sure to get one that can capture old resolutions, CRT era. I like to use a dazzle capture device for older games like NES PS1, n64, SNES. Sadly it’s a POS and that’s probably why it’s able to. Another option would be to get some sort of scaler but that’s way beyond me.

As for software you’ll hear about stuff like FME, fsplit, dxtory, SCFH, XSplit. I use to use XSplit a lot, it was so much better than everything out there. It was all in one capture and encoder software that could create scenes. I feel like XSplit is a great way to create videos for youtube or even making a “Let’s Play” and is fully featured with all sorts of cool plugins. When it comes to streaming though.. it’s always been kind of bad. It takes up a lot of resources, and the “game source” option WILL lose a good amount of FPS from your stream. I recently moved on to a free open source software called OBS that pretty much let me stream at higher resolutions with better FPS while still working my CPU less. I can’t recommend OBS enough for streaming.

Why a USB headset/mic? For the most part, people don’t have dedicated sound cards. And a majority of streams that have a slight buzz or ring in their voice over is because they use a traditional mic in port. On board sound is a sensitive lady, your power supply, static or whatever can make it fuzzy. I find that USB microphones really do help work around that. On top of that USB mics tend to have better gain, so are louder. At least to my experience in this way too specific of a case!

Why use OBS?

To provide some context to this I’ll link to two videos from my test channel. After that I’ll list how my computer performed with each of these tests. I purposely chose settings that I felt looked decent and that both XSplit and OBS can handle for the specific game. In other words both programs should easily handle these settings with my setup.

PC

GTX680

I7 975 @4.2GHz

12 Gigs Ram

Windows 7 64bit Ultimate

Internet Speed 50MB Down 5.1 Up

Setup for both programs:

Resolution 906*512

FPS 60

Quality 10

Bitrate 3000kbps

CPU Preset Fast

Audio 128 bitrate at 44.1khz stereo

Aero Off

Keep in mind that twitch archives aren't perfect, if it seems too choppy try refreshing the page.

XSplit Test

OBS Test

The difference may not seem like much (FPS being more consistent in OBS) but these differences can decide how smooth and good your stream can look, and even how well your game plays. Keep in mind that I purposely went with settings that both can easily perform.

XSplit

Stream wise..

Wasn’t consistent with FPS. Dropped a few frames.

Actual game play..

Had lower framerate, jumping from 40 to 55 FPS.

A few button delays or didn’t register presses. (Most obvious when missing shield counters)

CPU temp of 84c

OBS

Stream wise..

Consistent FPS. Didn’t drop any frames.

Actual game play..

Played at the normal 70 FPS.

No button delay.

CPU temp 67c

That’s with a test that both programs can easily handle at those settings with my computer. Had there been a more intense game or higher stream settings the differences would be a lot more obvious. I just thought I’d show best case scenario for both options. I purposely chose Vindictus as the game because I know it has a feature to take priority over CPU and it has some pretty fast action.

Setting Up Stream

I was going to have an OBS guide here but it really has an excellent help tab, short and to the point with pictures. It has great tool tips as well. So with that in mind I’ll just give some simple advice on what’s easy to overlook when streaming. Best of all if you have any issues they have an IRC channel and as far as Ive seen have answered plenty of questions.

Make a test channel!

It’s always a good idea to have an off the grid channel to review archives of test streams or to send a buddy to ask “can you hear me now?”

Never watch your own stream!

The worst thing I run into is people watching their own stream while streaming. Looping audio, eating up bandwidth. Plus it just seems kind of depressing when you get that mirror effect and nobody is there. If you must, and just want to see viewer count or something, make sure you mute it!

1080p STREAM!11!!

Not at all needed. I find that frame rate is far better than resolution. I don’t mean 60 FPS. I just mean a consistent frame rate. If you can hit 60 FPS but it jerks down to 45ish all the time it will feel like crap. It’s better to lower it some so it’s nice and smooth. The most obvious thing here though is the fact that most viewers won’t maximize their window. Most like to chat while watching, dare I say that it’s kind of the point. Because of that your resolution only has to look good in that minimized window, not at it’s max. This trick can help squeeze out extra headroom for your CPU. (Thanks Rhom!)

Webcams!

I think a facecam is at it’s best if the person has great body language and reactions. If you are stiff as a board and stone faced maybe avoid this one, at least during gameplay. Horror games are always good for a scare cam though. Also don’t be a shirtless D-bag. Please.

Audio!

When it comes to sound a good rule of thumb is to make sure you are slightly louder than the game when it’s at it’s peak volume (music or action scene). I also like to test my audio with my speakers set to halfway. Remember you never know what a viewer’s volume is set to when they first join, so being super loud for them will scare them away. It’s also important to see how easily your voice clips if you get too excited and are louder than normal. I’ve had a clipping issue for the longest time, but I’ve finally fixed it (yesterday) by buying a nice mic. Test your audio for feedback! Make sure game sound goes through your headset to avoid repeating game sound effects and the like. There are always exceptions but I think playing your music playlist over game play is kind of obnoxious.

What resolution?

First you need to find out what the game’s resolution is. Always pick a stream resolution that scales to the game’s resolution well to avoid extra blurry text and overly fuzzy edges. It should only do that because it’s a low resolution, not because of weird scaling. And remember, it’s always best to make the minimized stream window look good. The maximized window is just a luxury most people won’t use.

OBS settings

First thing to do is to decide your upload speed. If it’s a multiplayer game make sure you take that into account as well. Also just because you have awesome internet you can’t just upload at 10MBps or whatever, keep in mind that viewers might not have such a download speed. So setting crazy high settings just because you can isn’t exactly a good thing. Always adjust your FPS to whatever the game goes up to or lower. It’s wasteful to have it encoding at 60FPS when you’re playing a game or using capture gear that runs at 30 FPS. I’ll provide my old and current settings to give an idea of how to set it up. Either way you should test it lots to find that sweet spot. Keep in mind that it can change from game to game.

Old settings with 3.3GHz CPU 900KB Upload

Quality 10

CPU Fast

800kbps bitrate

Resolution 452*256 at best

FPS 30 FPS at best

New Settings with 4GHz CPU 5.1MB upload

Quality 10

CPU Fast

2500-3000kbps Bitrate

Resolution 908*512

FPS 60

Find Your Own Style

Starting out streaming can be pretty rough. Twitch in particular is set up in a way where it’s tough to find new people (thanks MOBA games). So even if you have a great stream set up no one may join for a long time. Don’t give up, people will show up and if they like your stream they will stick around. Slowly you will build up regulars and depending on the game it can snowball to large counts. Personally I stream because it’s a lot more fun playing games talking to people than playing games alone. The most viewers I ever had was with the new XCom with 300+ people. It was awful, people being ass-holes and spamming chat. I found that my sweet spot is around 10-20. Any more than that and it’s hard to keep up with chat. Like with anything over the internet you do put yourself out there, so don’t take things to heart too much. Internet sucks most the time, but not always! I’ve made plenty of friends there that I speak to almost every time I stream.

I guess that’s it! I hope this might help someone out with their stream. I’d love to hear about other people’s preferred set up and their channels! Just don’t be a shirtless LoL streamer playing music over their game the whole time please..

Please excuse my typos and grammar!

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Unidentified Flying Girl II

A Bullet Hell Blog Post

So last week I wrote an entry about discovering a love for bullet hells. Yeah, might have been overly optimistic about it. I ended up trying quite a few, from James Town to racy flying anime girl games. Some of them were okay, most were just meh. Haven't quite called it a false-positive yet, I still want to find some older games of the like, or maybe find something similar to what sparked this madness. I know bullet hells can be demanding but they always come off as simple games, and don't really engage me despite a bullet pattern that can melt eyes. My bias that a flying anime girl is a sign of a poor game has probably gotten stronger despite my love for SUGURI. Thanks to SUGURI though I seeked out more games made by Orange_Juice and found what I think might be the prequel to SUGURI, it's an educated guess since everything is in moon speak.

Sora's shield

SORA is pretty much SUGURI in every way. There are some major differences if you get really obsessed like I did.. but anyway! The scenario is similar in that you play a flying cyborg girl fighting a legion of robots and other flying cyborg girls. The dash mechanic works the same for the most part too. There have been major improvements production wise so the graphics and menu presentation have gotten a whole lot better and a lot less doujin like. SORA also has some amazing electronica tracks like it's predecessor. Level and enemy design have improved by a whole lot. Destructible parts and weak points made enemies more interesting to fight. Something cool they added was the option to only use Sora's shield before she fires her special, the default is a typical smart bomb in that she has I-frames and fires a special. The advantage of using Sora's shield before firing is that she can have some I-frames then get into a better position for a special attack. Overall I really enjoyed SORA only that it's adjustments to the dash and heat mechanics kind of made it less awesome for me. Unlike SUGURI I can recommend SORA to people since it's a whole lot easier to complete. That's not to say it's an easy game, beginners should play on easy before stepping it up for sure. Or you can be a fool like me and brute force hard. =]

The reason I prefer SUGURI to SORA is all about the feel of combat. SUGURI (at least for me) ended up being all about dashing for evasion and building up specials to always have a defensive and offensive option. The nature of that made it feel a lot more like an action game than purely a bullet hell. SORA makes that strategy a lot less viable though. Dashing builds up heat a whole lot faster and the additional damage Sora takes because of it feels far more harsh. What's worse is that even canceling and weapon linking builds heat. Along side those changes bosses have attack patterns that promote normal flight over dashing making them less engaging. Sora is always better off avoiding bullets at normal speed or straight up taking hits and spamming attacks than dashing. Despite my gripes, which probably only apply to someone that is way too into it, SORA is still an excellent game. To illustrate my point about the combat are two videos, Suguri fighting Hime and Sora fighting Starbreaker. The final bosses of each game's story mode set to hard. Personally a great final boss should reflect the skills a player builds while playing a game. These bosses do that, so the videos provide an excellent example of what the play style boils down to at the climax of each game respectively. Also I should note that dashing allows safe passage through most energy based attacks, Hime's blue attacks don't apply.

I'll still keep an eye out for bullet hells, only I'll be a lot more selective of my choices. It might have been that I just found a couple of games that I really enjoyed and not so much about what genre they were. =T

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Unidentified Flying Girl

A Bullet Hell Blog Post

Bullets

I can enjoy a shooter as much as the next person, but I've never cared much for bullet hells. Only having played a hand full of them I'm largely unfamiliar with the sub-genre. A lot of my favorite games have been anime styled but a majority of bullet hells I've seen seem to feature half naked anime girls as it's basis of "character design", at least that's the impression I have. That leads me to believe that the actual game part is likely to be trash while going for an easier sell to certain players. It might be unfair to size up bullet hells that way, browsing through xbox live arcade suggests not though. After stumbling into a BGM video on youtube, my curiosity for a particular game has opened up a genre I've stereotyped and written off since ever.

Suguri dashing

SUGURI's music won me over and I found myself searching youtube for more of it's tracks. Watching a few game play videos it's mechanics and fast pace piqued my interest and I decided to seek out the bullet hell. SUGURI being very Japanese and very indie I was a little uneasy about dropping 10$ on it over direct2drive, when it comes to indie games I tend to be cheap. After considering the game play videos I figured I've done worse (I'm looking at you Corpse Party) and bit the bullet. My initial impression was that this game is fucking hard. After five minutes or so I warmed up to the dash mechanic, it's music track lodging itself into the back of my head. I liked this, I like this bullet hell with a flying girl in it.

Dashing is the center point of everything in SUGURI. While dashing Suguri can evade, but more importantly completely pass through energy based attacks. When dashing through enemy attacks she builds up her special meter and heat percentage. High heat causes her to take a ton more damage so always dashing can be no good. Risk reward at it's finest the best way to fight a boss is to dash and charge up for special attacks giving you an offensive boost and much needed invincibility frames. A lot like deflecting shots with a beam saber in Megaman X Zero I was having fun nerding out with this game.

Kae the Jerk

It's a bummer but I can never recommend this game to just any player. It's too damned hard. It has the trifecta of difficulty settings easy, normal, and hard. Only that they're completely misleading and should be normal, hard, and TAS required. To compare a little, while both require memorization I feel that Dark Souls asks for patience and methodical play, while SUGURI wants you to twitch and have some mutated form of peripheral vision. There's this one boss on stage-4 that's a complete jerk. I can go on for paragraphs about how much of a jerk Kae is but this blog post is starting to run long. On top of difficulty SUGURI's stages are extremely short, and there are only seven of them. I had subdued expectations to begin with so I'm sure it's contributing to the glow I have for this game.

After experiencing Hime's boss battle I have an urge to play more like it. Touhou has a trillion forms and disturbs me, but it does have excellent music and I know it's origin is in shooters, where can I even buy those gam- I just bought Jamestown this minute. I can't find the quick look Jeff did where he had a robot shooting hundreds of missiles. I've given credit card info to a Japanese site I can't even read to buy SORA, SUGURI's sequel. I'm making poor life choices thanks to flying anime girls.

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