Final Fantasy X Escapades: Part 01: Blitzballin' Outta Control

Final Fantasy is a series that I've never had much luck getting into. It's not that I don't like games of the particular ilk, either. I've played and enjoyed things such as Legend of Dragoon, Golden Sun, Lost Odyssey, Wild Arms, and more. I've never played more than a few minutes of any Final Fantasy, however, so I figured I'd finally give one of the most unanimously adored entries a proper go. I thought it'd be fun to record my various thoughts as I traipse along.

Just to be up front, no I'm not playing the original PS2 version, but rather the "remastered" version on Vita. I have to assume the experience is largely identical apart from the Vita version being widescreen and conveniently portable.

As alluded to above, I don't have a ton of Final Fantasy knowledge, though I feel I've absorbed quite a bit over the years via osmosis. So far I've seen Chocobos, copious spiky hair, phoenix downs, giant summoned monsters, and a ridiculous amount of cut scenes. This is going pretty much as expected.

Oh for the love of god

The one part that snuck up on me is Blitzball. Now, I did know of the existence of Blitzball beforehand, but I didn't realize the extent to which the story seems to revolve around this imaginary sport. Blitzball is the first thing you're introduced to, and it's only proceeded to become more prominent as I've advanced nearly six hours into the game now. The protagonist (whom I've renamed TyyDyy) has at this point been transported a thousand years into the future, is fighting monsters constantly, has no idea what's going on, but oh hey, I just competed in the first big Blitzball tournament of the season, which has comprised the bulk of the story thus far. Baffling.

It's actually been especially interesting learning more about this fake, dumb sport and its apparent importance in this world, as one of my friends when I was in school actually claimed Blitzball to be his favorite sport. Keep in mind he was being asked about real life sports when he provided this answer. Of course I was completely dismissive at the time. Actually, I still am if I'm honest. But after all the buildup and finally getting to play a quick match of proper Blitzball, I can see the appeal. It's all very numbers-based and lacking in actual dexterous maneuvers, but for a playable sport existing within an RPG, it could be worse. I was legitimately pumping my fist a little bit and calling the AI team unrepeatable names as I scored goals and claimed victory.

Thankfully, Wakka, the character I was helping win the Blitzball tournament, is now supposedly retiring from the sport forever. I'd say I hope the focus will now shift more firmly to the evil-whale-monster-that-might-be-my-reincarnated-father-destroying-the-world part of the plot, but with all of the ridiculously in-depth tutorials I went though before playing my Blitzball matches, I'd bet I'm not nearly through with this crazy sport.

Despite the stilted and awkward dialog, silly story, and sometimes tiringly frequent cutscenes, I've found myself strangely engaged. I know these games typically take a while to really get started proper, so hopefully things will pick up as I march forward. I'll be sure to report back regardless.

I can't go before stating that the protagonist dresses like an absolute idiot. God, it's unbelievable.

3 Comments

Monument Valley: In Which JJ Enjoys a Unique Experience

When I learned yesterday that Monument Valley had finally been released on Android, I switched on my Nexus 7 and bought it immediately. It's a game that was able to capture my imagination through its gorgeous aesthetic alone, and had me considering buying an iPad to experience it, along with a handful of other games exclusive to Apple's ecosystem, of course.

The gorgeous aesthetic didn't disappoint. The Escher-esque worlds are vibrant and beautiful. I couldn't help but imagine how the imagery might shine through on a retina iPad's display, but even at 1280x800, this game is an absolute pleasure to look at. There is even built-in screenshot functionality that makes it easy to capture images of the game's worlds at any point.

Playing the game is simple, and consists of tapping a space to move the protagonist, Ida, as well as manipulating the world to create perspectives that line up paths for her to continue. The concept is very similar to Echochrome, though a bit more casual. I enjoyed the difficulty (or lack thereof) and pacing of Monument Valley; it's tough to get too stuck.

One of many gorgeous levels

The story is a bit esoteric, but I can appreciate that. It's told through level introductions and a few short sections of dialog. Other than that, it's the actions of Ida that you'll have to interpret as you will. Ida finds a yellow totem friend who helps her to navigate the worlds, and her goal seems to be to deliver a particular geometric shape to a point in these worlds before moving on to the next. You're told that the geometry of the worlds you're traversing is sacred, and also that something has been stolen. Perhaps Ida is returning the stolen parts of the world? It's something I feel like I'll have a better grasp on if I were to play through the game a second time knowing what I do now, and filling in the blanks.

Replaying the game isn't so much of an issue, either, as it took me only about an hour the first time. Length of games, or the value of a game, has always been a fairly contentious issue. I fall on the side of hour counts not meaning much. It should be enjoyment rather than time that's weighed against cost. Monument Valley is $4 on the Google Play Store right now. For an hour long game, some people may say that's about right; others will undoubtedly say it's way too much. To me, I enjoyed that hour quite a bit. I appreciated the sense of wonder the developer, Ustwo, was able to encapsulate into that time span. For me, that's more than enough to warrant $4.

Monument Valley is a small yet artistically brilliant game with subtly captivating bits of storytelling. If it sounds at all interesting to you, I'd recommend you give it a try. Games like this seem to be where my interests lie these days. Kentucky Route Zero is another game in a similar vein, which I enjoy quite a bit. With the third episode of KRZ finally having been released a bit ago, I'll be playing through that in the near future. I may even write about it!

1 Comments

I bought a motorcycle. Any other Giant Bomb riders out there?

After years of driving vehicles that didn't belong to me, I've finally purchased my own—and it's a motorcycle. A Honda 919, to be exact.

I decided I wanted a motorcycle a while back, and it took a while to make it a reality. I had to sign up for a motorcycle safety and training course that would provide me with a completion card, which bypasses the skills test for a motorcycle endorsement at the DMV. The class also saves me money on insurance, so I figured it was the best route to take. There was a wait list for the class, but I eventually made it through that three day extravaganza. After I paid some fees and obtained my new license, I went out looking for a bike. Craigslist was my best friend. After scouring it for quite some time, I found the bike you see above, sent out a hopeful text message to the owner offering slightly less than the asking price, and the rest is history.

I haven't been on it a ton yet, but thus far it's been astoundingly fun to ride. I'm doing my best to ride as safely as possible, especially as I'm still a beginner learning a new bike. That said, it's easy to quickly find myself ten miles per hour over the speed limit.

I've been acquiring gear piecemeal, and I almost have everything I feel I should. I'm waiting on a jacket to arrive, which should be Wednesday. Living in Oregon, I also am going to need some rain pants that I can throw on over whatever I'm regularly wearing. But I have a nice helmet, comfy gloves, and even a backpack with some nice motorcycle-friendly features.

Right now my biggest concern is having the thing stolen, so I'm looking into some disc locks and things of that nature. I actually spent way too long reading a Reddit forum where people asked questions to an ex motorcycle thief. The takeaway was that if someone wants to steal your bike, they're going to. The best you can do is to make the process as long and painful as possible for them, and hope that after assessing the risk, they choose to move on. Luckily my 919 doesn't fit the description of the most valued bikes to steal. My bike is both old and basic enough to hopefully not draw too much attention. It's no Ninja or CBR.

Anyway, I'm pretty excited about owning a motorcycle. I look forward to improving my riding skills and enjoying many years of blissful riding.

As the title suggests, I'd love to hear about any fellow Giant Bomb riders' experiences! What kinds of bikes do you guys ride?

23 Comments

Games to Shocktober [Final Update 10/21]

Nonsensical titles aside, I've suddenly found myself with a wide-open month of October. That being the case, I figure now is as good a time as any to catch up on some games I've been meaning to get around to. Only a handful are "horror" games, but I'll be holding onto those and playing them closer to the 31st.

Updated October 21st, 2013

With my trusty red sharpie, I'll be crossing things off the list as I finish them. There's something supremely satisfying about the idea of a physical list and a big red pen that makes me think I'll actually get through most of these. Stay tuned to find out. You know, if you want. I'll be updating this blog with new, more red line heavy, photos. I'll also be writing down some thoughts on any games that I find warrant as much.

I've already gotten started on Alice: Madness Returns a couple of days early. I look forward to crossing it off soon. After that? I guess GTA V, maybe. We'll see!

[General Update 10/6]

Feeling pretty good about my progress thus far! I've managed to cross off five games in six total days of October having gone by. I've actually been getting caught up in games not even on this list, such as The Last of Us and Demon's Souls, so perhaps my list could have been better conceived. Regardless, I'm on an excellent pace. I've played about six hours of Assassin's Creed III so far, and I'm anticipating that to be my biggest challenge here. Stacking or Hotline Miami will likely be the next I cross off, assuming all goes to plan. Onward I press.

[Final Update 10/21]

Against all odds, I've completed my entire list! Ten days early, even! I definitely surprised myself with this. I think the physical list really did make a difference; just having a list to look at, and then being able to physically cross things off of it, really made a the process a lot more fun. I'd recommend the process to anyone who's had trouble finishing a backlog.

Now that this silly pursuit is through, I'm free to concentrate on writing for the upcoming National Novel Writing Month. That gauntlet will be even tougher, but I'm lookin' forward to it.

Thoughts and Feelings [Updated 10/21]

Alice: Madness Returns

I was very much impressed by this game. It does unexpected things from time to time that made me excited to be playing a 3D platformer—probably for the first time since playing Mario Galaxy. But actually, some of the more impressive moments was when it took a dimension away, and the game became a 2D sidescroller, complete with a unique art style. The game has a few very impressive tricks up its sleeve for sure, but I found that there were also a set of not-so-impressive tricks that were reused over and over throughout the game. This is a game that I feel would benefit from being about two thirds as long as it is, as I felt it really started to drag toward the end. Luckily the environments and art direction is stronger than ever in the final chapters, so I didn't have too much of a problem solving the same types of puzzles over and over.

This is a great game, and it seems to almost defy the 3D platformer genre with its unexpected—and downright cool—gameplay twists. I just wish there were more of these twists. I'd very much recommend it if you have a good chunk of time to kill, and can appreciate a truly insane adventure.

Gunpoint

Gunpoint feels to me like a creative and interesting game marred by a lack of realization. There are such good mechanics here that it's a shame when you realize that the game's over just a couple of hours after starting it. And the pacing of even that short journey manages to feel off. This game feels like a missed opportunity in many ways. However, looking at the history of the game's development it's easy to make guesses as to why it's the way it is. I'm expressing such disappointment here, but it's only because so much of what's there makes for a charming, unique, legitimately fun(ny) experience that's totally worth a couple hours of anyone's time. I just wish there was more to it. The sky was the limit with this concept, and it just feels like the developer stopped at about the fifth floor or so. I'd play a Gunpoint 2.

Grand Theft Auto V

**Fairly inconsequential end-of-game dialog-based spoiler mentioned**

This game... I don't even know what to say about it. It impressed me, but at the same time disappointed me. The last line of the game pretty much wraps up my feelings on the entire series. The last thing Michael says before the credits roll is that he's getting too old for this. I can't get it out of my head that this line was a commentary on GTA as a whole. I believe one Jeff Gerstmann, Videogamesman of Giant Bomb dot com (a website about video games) mentioned how he didn't know where this genre could possibly go to remain interesting and relevant going forward. I think Rockstar realizes this as well. I think they know that if there's another GTA game, it's not going to resemble the past five entries in the series. It's going to be something significantly different.

All that said, I enjoyed this almost-nostalgic romp for what it was. It's a finely crafted game that's really quite amazing in many ways.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

Interesting game with some neat moments, but ultimately I enjoyed this game for its art and music above all else. The story seemed obscure to the point that it was hard to care about it. Worth the time if you're into atmospheric exploration. I just wish it was a bit less plodding between the neat moments.

To the Moon

Wow, this game is an emotional roller coaster. It had me laughing, crying, and... well, crying some more. It's really quite touching. I was able to quickly relate to the characters, and it made the journey supremely rewarding, especially in the back third or so where things really get interesting. To the Moon—similar to Superbrothers—can feel plodding, especially early on, but the basic gameplay systems are just enough to string you along through the story. And what a story it is!

Hotline Miami

This game's great. I had a real hard time getting into it back when it first came out and the fervor surrounding it was at an all-time high. I feel like being in the proper mindset for this game helps a lot. When I got into a groove, I was able to run through almost the entire game in a single sitting. It's just so addicting! The music draws you into a kill-craving trance. The best part about Hotline Miami is its speed. Even when you're failing, you're right back with another attempt so quickly that you don't have time to stay frustrated—especially when you're taking out any and all frustration on unsuspecting guards' heads over and over... and over.

I hated the boss battles. They were the worst part of the game by far, and I just felt like they were so fundamentally different from the rest of the game. It almost felt like every time I'd get to a boss, everything I'd been learning up until that point would just be thrown out the window and I'd have to die many times over learning whatever trick was required to beat the current boss. Not fun. But ultimately not the biggest deal, either.

Stacking

I'm not sure why, but after I finished Stacking, I began to think about how I'd score it on the Giant Bomb scale. I came up with two stars of five. It's a brilliantly cute premise that I want to love so desperately, but I just didn't have fun with the core mechanics of the game. It's entertaining in spurts, but by the last world I found myself glancing at a quick guide so that I didn't have to spend any more time with the puzzles than I needed to. That said, it was legitimately funny in spots, and the overarching narrative is decent (and really gets good toward the end). I just couldn't help but be disappointed, though.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

I did not expect to enjoy this nearly as much as I did. I've come to a realization in my relatively recent gaming history, and that is that I enjoy mediocre third-person action games way more that I reasonably should. Seriously. I freakin' loved Binary Domain, for example. I also bought, of all things, Garshasp: The Monster Slayer and enjoyed beating that. Point being, I wasn't sure quite what to think of this game, but I wanted to give it a shot. Turns out it's pretty good! Or maybe it's just me; I can't tell. But really, it's a good length at about six hours on easy. The only way I can see that stretching out is by way of more deaths, and that wouldn't have been any more fun. I'd recommend playing on easy and just enjoying a short (yet electrifying) narrative about an Ultramarine captain and his crew. As someone who's not at all invested in any kind of Warhammer fiction whatsoever, the game was enjoyable. And that's all you can really ask for, right?

Dead Space

Wowzers. I've owned this game forever, and just have never gotten around to playing it—until now! And man, I was missing out. This game's fantastic! Rough around the edges in spots, but so fantastic. Honestly, by the end of the game I not only went directly into new game plus for a good hour or so to keep playing with my advanced gear, but then I jumped directly into Dead Space 2! That game's not even on this list! I just wanted to keep going. Keep seeing this universe. It's funny, the first time I was exposed to this game and its fiction, I wasn't too impressed. I always felt like I should enjoy it in theory, but it just never quite hit for me. Now I look at the character design, the environments, just everything, and it all just seems so damn cool. Some of the item usage and general controls felt clunky in the original Dead Space, but from the hour or so of 2 that I've played, most if not all of that has been smoothed out. I'm really looking forward to jumping back into 2, but I'm going to focus on my list here a bit more just to make sure I can finish it, because I'm on a heck of a pace.

Dead Space is great. A tad rough this day and age, but pretty much totally amazing once you acclimate. I finally see where you were coming from, Brad.

The Witcher 2

Alright, this is a weird one for me. I really liked the original game a ton, but I felt the changes to 2 made the game less fun. Just the game part, though. The part where you play it wasn't quite as satisfying. Which is probably weird, considering just how antiquated and crusty a lot of the original game feels this day and age. But there was a charm to the first game, while I found 2 to be less charming and more frustrating.

But the story was still there. The world that I've come to know via the first game as well as multiple books was alive and well. I enjoyed exploring the universe of the Witcher more than any other part of the game.

Antichamber

I really was enjoying myself with this game initially, but there comes a point where the puzzles become obscure to the point that I just feel like I'm wasting my time. And I guess I get it; it's supposed to be tough like that. But maybe that sort of puzzle game just isn't for me. I ended up watching guides to find the guns and finishing the game that way. And hey, that was still fun. I got to see a bunch of weird stuff without banging my head against the mind-numbing laws of the world for who knows how long. Interesting experience, but maybe not my cup of tea.

Costume Quest

This game's fantastic. Just super charming, which makes up for it being simple as can be. Eventually the amount of encounters became a bit grating, but the game's short enough that it never became a huge issue. Not a whole lot more to say, other than I look forward to playing the DLC a bit later in the year.

Anna

So, I don't usually play horror games. Like, at all. But I've been getting into horror more and more lately, both in movies and games, so I figured I'd give this a shot. I played it at night, and it made my skin crawl. As mentioned, I don't have a lot of experience with horror as a general genre, so those moments where I'd turn around in the game and suddenly the room would be different in some way (a trick this game dabbles in quite a bit), those really freaked me out. I mean, shivers down my spine. It was never scary to the point where I was screaming or anything like that, but that feeling of suddenly having goosebumps covering your entire body was commonplace. And that was kind of exciting! I feel like I'm starting to enjoy horror, and being scared, in a way I never have before. It's a means of eliminating every other thought process from my brain. When you're afraid, you're in the moment. Nothing exists but the fear. And sometimes that's exactly what you need, you know?

The story was actually fairly engrossing, and there are even multiple endings. I ended up using a guide here, too, as the game gets a bit nonsensical in its puzzles the deeper you get into it. Some of them are the kind you look back on and feel fine about using a guide because you never would have solved it otherwise. Even so, highly enjoyable.

DmC Devil May Cry

Having never played any serious amount of any previous Devil May Cry game, I really enjoyed this. Perhaps not quite as much as one Bradley Shoemaker, but it was a fun experience. Lots of insane shenanigans. I guess I was just expecting more after hearing Brad talk about it.

But yeah, more weapon combinations than I could ever want, and the whole game just felt good.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare

I loved Alan Wake, and I can't believe I waited so long to play this follow-up. It has one of the best uses of licensed music I've seen. I finally understand what Patrick was talking about when he mentioned playing through the game three times. It's a much more natural process than he made it sound, but yeah, it gets a tad repetitive. Thankfully it mostly works.

Assassin's Creed III

On my personal list of favorite Assassin's Creed games, this game only narrowly falls below two and Brotherhood. I just loved those other two so much, but this one is pretty freaking great, you guys. All of you who claim to be super disappointed by this game? You're all crazy people. It feels like everyone got together and played some kind of big elaborate prank on me. You guys all tried to trick me into not playing this fantastic game! But seriously, I just don't understand the hate. This is a great Assassin's Creed game. It has flaws, sure, but I just don't see where these people are coming from after having completed it.

Great experience, and highly recommended. I'm actually slightly excited for IV now, which I really wasn't excited for at all before.

10 Comments

I can feel the internet sucking the juice out of my eyeballs—suck, suck, suck, suck, suck!

I feel like I've outgrown the internet. And yet I'm still hanging onto strands of it, possibly out of habit, but maybe it's more out of some hope that I'll be able to find the same level of ignorant excitement in it that I once experienced.

I've abandoned Twitter, I've cancelled my Xbox Live subscription, I never did properly use Facebook—most notably, even the Giant Bomb forums have become insufferable in many cases. It seems that every aspect of the internet is a venomous pit that provides very little in the way of bettering humanity, and just slowly sucks the soul out of everything it comes into contact with. Have you guys ever seen Joe vs. the Volcano? Do you remember the scene where Joe describes the affect of the fluorescent lights in his dull, drab, suicide-inducing office building?

This is exactly what the internet has become to me—this "situation," this "room." It's painful. It's embarrassing. People are horrible, and the internet so blatantly showcases that. When people aren't being horrible, it comes back to the aforementioned painful embarrassment. People try so hard on the internet. They want to be liked. I suppose I did some of that myself at one time or another, but I'd like to think it was never done in such an atrociously classless fashion.

I feel like people don't realize just how pointless they are on the internet in much the same way that people don't realize how pointless they are in high school—that is until they've moved on for a while. Go ahead, take a moment to recall high school. Remember the popular kids? The "important" kids? Remember the social hierarchy, and how so many kids' worlds, at the core of it, revolved around adjusting their position on that hierarchy? Now we can look back and realize that it was all bullshit. We were all high schoolers, and no one was any better than anyone else. We can also realize how sad it was that any of us ever thought otherwise.

The internet is similar in that anyone who spends a significant amount of time here would do well to take a step back and try to realize exactly how fucking stupid everything they think they care about is.

I don't expect people who are so intricately entangled in this garbage to immediately see my point of view, but maybe they'll at least think about it.

Finally, I want to be clear that the internet and its dwellers are not all bad. I don't mean to offend anyone. This is simply a feeling I've felt a need to express for much too long. Consider it expressed.

1 Comments

Building a PC in 2013

Hey, guys! I built myself a new PC recently, and I'm loving it. I thought some of you may be interested in hearing about how my building process went, thus this blog was born.

Everything Plus the Case

PartDetail
CaseCorsair Carbide Series 500R
MotherboardASUS MAXIMUS VI HERO
CPUIntel Core i5-4670K Haswell
GPUEVGA SuperClocked w/ ACX Cooling GeForce GTX 770
RAMG.SKILL Sniper Series 8GB @ 1866 MHz
PSUSeaSonic X Series X650
CoolerCORSAIR Hydro Series H100i
SSDSAMSUNG 840 Series
HDDSAMSUNG Spinpoint 1TB 7200 RPM

As you can see, I decided to jump on the 2013 boat and bought Intel's brand new Haswell CPU as well as a freshly released GTX 770 graphics card. The Haswell decision probably wasn't the smartest, as I could have gotten an older Ivybridge chip to pair with a socket 1155 motherboard for a bit cheaper, but that's no fun.

The view from the front.

The point was brought up to me on several occasions that by the time next generation consoles are released, the GTX 770's 2GB of VRAM could be inadequate. This is the most vital piece of any gaming build, so I considered this point pretty carefully. At the end of the day, I gambled that this factor wouldn't be too limiting. I'm only running one monitor at 1080p, so 2GB should suit me just fine. At least that's the hope. Limited stock of the 4GB cards also played a part. If I'd been able to find a 4GB EVGA 770, I may have spent the extra cash. But really, I think it'd have been a waste to do so.

I splurged a bit with the ASUS Maximus VI Hero motherboard. I really don't need all of the features that it provides; however, the biggest plus to the Maximus was the build quality. My goal here was to buy into something that was reliable first and foremost, and would provide me with options when it comes to future expandability. This motherboard, while a tad expensive, fits the bill.

Once I was able to wrap my mind around my chosen components' power draw, as well as the effects of overlocking, choosing the 650W SeaSonic power supply was fairly easy. RAM is almost always an easy buy, as you can't really go wrong sticking to a reliable brand and well-reviewed model. I did opt to bump up to 1866MHz RAM as opposed to the more standard 1600MHz, not that I'll ever notice a difference.

My SSD and hard drive are refugees from my last PC, so no Windows installing was done this time around, which was nice. A fresh install of Windows is always great, but the following setup and reconfiguration of everything ever is something I was glad to avoid.

Picking Up the Pieces (And Subsequently Placing Them Inside the Case)

The view from the side.

This was just the second time I've built a computer—my first build occurring just over a year ago—so the nerves were still present as I was unpacking everything and preparing to throw it all together. I imagine those nerves are something that never completely go away, even for much more experienced builders; we dabble in an expensive hobby, after all.

With butterflies fluttering away in my stomach, I started to unbox and build. I laid out my motherboard, still in the cardboard sheath in which it was packaged. The first thing I did was drop in my CPU. This is a simple procedure, but one that's always super stressful. I didn't have any problems, though, as I lined up the notches and dropped it right into my 1150 socket. I swung the arm down, locked it into place, and let out a little sigh of relief. After that I popped in my RAM. I ran into a bit of trouble with selecting the proper DIMM slots. I consulted my motherboard's instructions, but information seemed to contradict. At the end of the day, I ended up slotting my RAM into the slots the manual suggested, but after examining my BIOS, it seems that my manual may have led me astray. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. And everything RAM-related still worked fine despite any confusion, so I've yet to reconfigure it.

With the CPU and RAM all in place, it was time to seat the motherboard into my case. Now, normally you may place a stock cooler onto your CPU before screwing down the motherboard, but since I decided to go with a liquid cooler, I had to wait and install that after my motherboard was in place and secured. I ran into my second issue in the motherboard securing process. Turns out my case has three built-in standoffs along the top of the case, meaning I didn't need to install any of my own there. But instead of preinstalled metal standoffs, my case just had these strange raised plastic bubbles. Nowhere was this explicitly explained, but I eventually confirmed via the internet that these raised bubbles were indeed built-in standoffs. I installed the rest of the required standoffs and slid my motherboard in and lined it all up. The process of lining everything up and pushing the rear IO ports through the backplate was a bit of a challenge, and I actually ended up scratching the bottom of my motherboard's PCB a bit, as it was rubbing on a metal standoff or two as I struggled with it. Applying a bit of force, I eventually get everything settled and applied screws. The motherboard was set!

Next I installed my graphics card. Oh, my glorious GTX 770. I really love the look of this thing. It's black with gold trim, and if a computer graphics card can be classy, this is one of the classiest looking cards I've ever seen. The card popped into one of my PCIe slots very simply, and I screwed it down.

Secret top fan mounting compartment, housing my dual radiator fans

Next came the most interesting part of my whole build. I say interesting, but what I really mean is plodding and stressful. My biggest hurdle with this build by far was the installation of my liquid cooler. A key consideration to make when installing a liquid cooler with a radiator is whether you want a push, pull, or push/pull setup with your fans. Push meaning pushing air through the radiator, pull meaning pulling it through from the other side, and push/pull obviously being both simultaneously. Only having two fans, I couldn't run a push/pull without buying more, so I opted to push air through from the outside in. My case has a mounting point that's designed for radiators at the top of the case, so this wasn't too difficult to make work. What I did was I installed the radiator more on the inside of my case toward my motherboard, and installed my fans just above in a hidden compartment. The fans push cool air down through the radiator and into the case. This may not sound like the greatest idea to be pushing the heat from the radiator down into the case, but I have a rear exhaust fan sitting directly below the radiator, so in theory that should be catching all of that heat and blowing it right out the back. I have two more fans in the front of my case taking in air, as well as a large 200mm air intake fan on the side of my case. I've created a bit of a wind tunnel with all of the fans being intake other than the one at the back. I'm no expert when it comes to this stuff, but it seems to be working out nicely from what I've seen in my temperature monitoring.

But let's get back to the cooler installation, and my biggest issue of the build. The issue here came with mounting the pump to the CPU. In order to mount this thing, you need to install a special backplate that will allow the pump to be secured to the motherboard. This backplate attaches to the back of the motherboard and provides the screw points to mount the pump on the front. Thing is, the provided Intel backplate is apparently not fully compatible with all motherboards despite claims of the contrary. The mounting points that poke through the motherboard from behind are too long for some motherboards' PCB, resulting in a loose fit of the pump over the CPU, and thus ineffective cooling. I looked through a bunch of conversations online about this, and there seemed to be a fairly large group of people claiming that the looseness is intentional, and that the screw tightening process of installation should take up that slack. Well, just as many people seemed to believe otherwise, and that it was basically a huge fault in the design of the backplate. This mostly affects motherboards with thin PCB, and ASUS seems to make their boards thinner than most. Lucky me, I bought an ASUS board. So I was convinced that I had to find a way to make the backplate a tighter fit. There are a few online tutorials for fixing this involving rubber or metal washers. Basically what you want to do is space out the backplate against the motherboard a bit more so that the mounting points are flush with the front side of the motherboard as opposed to poking up several millimeters higher, as was the case with my situation. I eventually found a sheet of sticky rubber circles that I ended up using as makeshift washers. And hey, it worked. I couldn't get the fit just right; it ended up being a tad too tight in the end, but it was better than things not being held down tight enough. Crisis seemingly averted! After that nail-biting near-fiasco I was happy to finally get the pump seated over the CPU properly. It all seemed a bit ramshackle, and I definitely missed the simplicity of a stock Intel cooler, but I think it was worth the effort.

A portion of my PC's innards

Things were pretty much smooth sailing from there. I threw in my solid state drive and traditional hard drive from my old machine, which was simple enough. Then I threw in my power supply and wired everything up, trying my best to keep my machine from becoming a snake pit of cables—I wasn't completely successful in that particular endeavor. Fans were hooked up, SATA cables were attached, and front panel pins were slid into their proper positions. Everything seemed in place.

I put the side panels back on, hooked it up to my monitor, mouse, and keyboard, and gave it a shot. And yes, I did put the side panels back on prior to testing the thing. I don't know why, but I enjoy having a bit of an arrogance when it comes to this. Like, "of course it'll work." I actually like to think it's more positive thinking than arrogance, but anyway. I'm happy to report that it did indeed work! My new machine was firing on all cylinders, and no problems to report. It booted right into Windows and I was off to the races. It went this way the first time I built a PC, too, which likely just means I'm very lucky.

Results!

I've been very happy with this upgrade thus far. I've been playing through the Witcher 2 lately, and this upgrade has helped tremendously with that. I went from a framerate of ~28-38 on medium settings to a solid 60 on ultra. Couldn't be happier. I can't wait to play Witcher 3 when that hits.

As far as my temperatures, things seem peachy. My CPU idles at around 30 degrees celsius, which seems about right. Under a 100% load stress test, it seems to peak around the low 60s, which seems totally reasonable. My graphics card never spins the fans up too much, which is great. Noise-wise, things are good, but overall could be better. I'm thinking of buying quieter fans for my radiator and other intakes, but for now I can certainly live with these noise levels.

And that's it! I'm tired of writing, and you're likely tired of reading. Just wanted to document a few things here for fun. Perhaps some of you will be able to benefit in your future builds from hearing about the issues I've had. In any case, thanks for reading. And thanks to anyone and everyone who contributed opinions on this build in earlier threads—it was very helpful.

29 Comments

Cloudy With a Chance of Gaming -- Run Away With Me to the Land of JRPGs and Mild Disappointment

It's nearly two in the morning and I'm wide awake. I've recently finished some games, so I figure I'll write a bit about them while I have the time.

BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

I've finally finished this! I really liked it a whole lot, and I was trying to savor it for as long as possible. But I did finish it a few days ago, and continued to play after the final boss was defeated and the credits rolled. There're quite a few secrets to find in this game, so I spent a good couple hours unlocking costumes for the plethora of characters. I also made my way through all of the retro cartridge stages to unlock the classic Commander Video character. There's a lot to see in Runner 2.

Inarguably the best alternate character.

I started to write a review for the game, but so far that hasn't really gone anywhere. There's something about writing reviews that throws me off. I just don't know what I want to do with a review, you know? As someone who's not a well-established internet personality, it's tough to write a meaningful opinionated review, as no one really knows a ton of my background or where I'm coming from. But then going the pure objective route in a review is entirely uninteresting to me, so it's little tough. I hope to at some point find a way to write a meaningful review, but I haven't cracked that nut quite yet.

On top of my struggles with review theory, I've had a hard time nailing down my exact thoughts on Runner 2. If I were to put a number on it, I'd either give it a four or a five, but I've gone back and forth quite a bit. I liked the game a lot, and in many ways it's nearly perfect. On the other hand, this is a game that doesn't do much differently from the original Runner. The mechanical additions to the series aren't particularly interesting, and toward the end of the game things begin to become a bit stale. Whether or not those issues are significant enough to warrant docking a star is hard for me to say. It probably makes sense to dock a star for these legitimate issues, but then I feel like I still had five stars worth of fun with the game. I suppose this circles back around to my issue with review theory.

Anyway, the game's really great. Despite my lack of faith in the art style upon initially learning about the game, it actually works extremely well, and is downright charming. I think fans of the original will definitely enjoy what's here, which is a whole lot more of the Runner you love.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

So I finished this as well. I must say, I'm glad to be through with it. I wanted to like it, but I just didn't. The controls are too clunky and the basic game design lacks creativity. There are simply too many gunfights and not enough exploration. I felt like I was constantly shooting, and that's really not what's fun here. It got to the point where I'd see a gun leaned up against a crate in the distance (something that's all too common, eventually becoming laughable) and just knew I'd be in for more frustration.

The plot barely managed to keep me interested. Luckily the characters were really good, and the dialog actually provided me with two or three laugh out loud moments. I've already talked some about my problems with this game in my last blog. Unfortunately none of my thoughts have changed much since finishing it, so I won't go on too long. Uncharted was interesting, and ultimately I'm glad I played it, but I'm happy to put it behind me and never play it again. I'll be moving on to the second game in the series in a little bit, but I'm currently taking an Uncharted breather. Hopefully the second game can live up to the hype. I'll be supremely disappointed if it turns out to be too similar to Drake's Fortune.

This underground cavern section is home to but one of many frustrating combat scenarios.

Oh, and I guess the last thing I want to make sure to mention is how crazy short this game is. The combat scenarios were terrible, therefore I died quite often, and yet this still only took me seven hours to beat. Seriously, with as many times as I died, that total time should have been closer to six hours, possibly less. I would have enjoyed some more time with these characters, but then with my aforementioned habit of dying constantly, the brevity was, in a way, a relief.

Legend of Dragoon

And a game that I haven't beaten! Not yet, anyway. I'm continuing to make progress in this lengthy JRPG. Perhaps that was redundant, as length is probably implied with the term JRPG.

I have no idea how long this game is, but I now have what seems like way too many Dragoon Spirits in my possession--one for all but one of my seven party members, as it stands. I'd guess that I'm at least half, possibly two thirds of the way through.

Drama queen Shana.

If there's an issue with the game at this stage, it's that there's too much exposition and not enough straight icin' fools. I'm currently trapped in this process of gathering party members inside a castle for an imminent celebration of my party's heroicness and bravery. You know what? I've still got things to do. I don't have time to celebrate my own accomplishments (or lack thereof). I need to chase down Lloyd (the main Bad Dude) and take back the Moon Dagger, which is clearly of great importance, and almost certainly poses a threat to the entire planet. I have no time for scavenger hunts, followed by dialog, followed by backtracking, followed by more dialog. I hope the pace picks back up soon, because it's currently as if the story is stuck in molasses, and it's tiresome. The combat's so good here that I actually want to grind and level up my characters and their special moves, so please, game, let me do that.

The writing at this stage of the game is as laughable as ever, which continues to be simultaneously enjoyable and cringe-inducing. There was recently a scene between the main character, Dart, and his love interest Shana that was redonkulous. Shana finally confessed her love to Dart. She told him that she loved him, that she's always loved him, and that when Dart went away on his journey (an event previous to the game starting) it just made her love him even more. She says that she's okay if Dart only thinks of her as a little sister, because at least she's been able to spend time with him. At that point Dart finally tries to tell Shana that he thinks of her as more than just a little sister-type, but Shana cuts him off and says they should discuss it after their journey. They awkwardly move closer to each other. What's going to happen?! It's a JRPG, so of course there're like three awkward interruptions in a row, and the moment is lost. Everything about everything in this game is so ridiculously cheesy, but again, it's all pretty much amazing.

I'll continue to update as I make my way toward the end. I'd like to wrap this one up so that I can not only get back to Ni no Kuni, but also start in on the other PlayStation era JRPG's I've bought recently: Xenogears and Wild Arms. So many RPGs!

That's all for now, but I'll almost certainly be back to bother you all some more in the near future. If you have any thoughts (perhaps contradictory ones) regarding whatever it is I've been rambling (waffling?) about here, I'd love to hear them!

19 Comments

Cloudy With a Chance of Gaming -- James Dean Stars in Dark Souls, and Hey, Uncharted is Old

Following a light downpour of rain earlier, the clouds have moved on and it's been surprisingly sunny outside this afternoon. Here I sit, next to my open window, while a nice Spring breeze carries the inspiration my way to write about some video games! A couple in particular: Dark Souls and Uncharted. Let's start with the former.

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition

I've been chipping away at Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition for a good while now. Well, as of a few moments ago I've officially beaten it, and I'm pretty excited about that. The "Souls" games have always had a bit of a stigma attached to them. It seems that people are often scared off by the difficulty of these games, but friends, I'm here to tell you that your fears are misplaced, and are probably holding you back from an experience you'd actually really enjoy. I'm not some masochist. I'm someone who gave up on the Xbox Ninja Gaiden games when they became frustratingly difficult. I'm someone who gave Monster Hunter a legitimate shot and eventually found it to be too complex and unforgiving to hold my attention. But Dark Souls? I was able to not only stick it out until the very end, but I really enjoyed myself in the process. It can be difficult, but in a way that makes you want to uncover the secret of why it's difficult, and then proceed to tear it apart. More often than not you do exactly that, and it's immensely satisfying.

It's funny, I spent a lot of the time between my failures googling terms from the game and instantly having it autofill to exactly what I was looking for. Clearly quite a few people were searching for the exact same things I was. It's a game that demands that kind of research, and that's okay, as long as you understand that. Maybe there are people who'd enjoy the laborious process of complete self-discovery in this game, but at a point I found that you're not losing any enjoyment to occasionally nudge yourself in the right direction, whether that's by finding out where the next boss is, or what a particular special item can do for you. There are so many ambiguous aspects of Dark Souls that the process of uncovering and learning about them is rewarding in and of itself. Dark Souls is a game that largely disregards common convention, and piecing together the logic and systems in the game, whether by simply playing or through an online wiki, is a fascinating process. Dark Souls almost feels like more than a game in that way. It really feels like an adventure on multiple levels, and that's a rare thing.

I really enjoyed the process of building my character. Going into the game I really had no idea how to build a successful demon slayer, and yet it all turned out alright--another testament to this game not being impenetrable. As my ridiculous title alludes to, I named my character James Dean, for no other reason than his name randomly popped into my mind. Is that weird? Probably. That's okay, because after about 50 hours, my James Dean ended up looking just about as cool as the unflinchingly cool actor:

I guess the point that I'd really like to get across is this: don't fear Dark Souls. Embrace it and it will embrace you back. And then you will cry into each other's shoulders as your failures pile up around you, only to be knocked down by the fleeting moments of sweet success, which make it all worthwhile.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Being a new PS3 owner, I figure there's probably no exclusive series more worth experiencing than Uncharted. I could be wrong. After playing a bit of the first game, I'm actually really questioning myself on this. I get it, the second game is the high mark and greatly improved on the first, but I was shocked by just how dated this first game feels. And looks, for that matter.

The opening scene on the boat instantly delivered a hard blow of reality and I realized how far things have come within this single console generation. I wouldn't say the game looks bad, but everything about it looks flat. More work was clearly put into some facial textures, but almost everything else looks shockingly bland by today's standards. The smoke effect coming off of explosions as you're blowing up pirate boats looked like an effect strait out of a budget television show. Some of the later jungle environments look pretty good, but I was just taken aback while realizing just how far developers have been able to take this console hardware between the release of Uncharted and now. Maybe it was partly a result of inflated expectations after hearing so much about how good the second game looked when it was released. I just assumed they'd be comparable.

But back to how the game plays, and feels: I don't like it. Movements seem slow and awkward. The jump and roll animations in particular are just goofy. Drake's run animation isn't much better. It all just seems a bit cartoony. Or, like a cartoon trapped inside the confines of reality. Everything about the physics and momentum of movement seem just off enough to make it all feel weird. The controls really become an issue in combat. Cover and evasive movement isn't handled particularly well. It plays like a less polished version of Alan Wake, and Alan Wake of course was far from perfect in this regard. Shooting is unsatisfying, and I found myself wishing I could pull a Red Dead and just run up on people and pull the trigger to murder them with an animation. I think earlier enemies took three shots to kill, but as I've progressed they're taking more and more, and their weak stagger animation just makes the shooting bits (of which there are many) a total chore. I assume this is all fixed in the second game. I hope to god that it is.

Negatives aside, I really like the tone of the game. It's a bunch of silly non-stop action with witty characters and a plot that's at least vaguely interesting. It's just fun, and I appreciate that. Right off the bat I enjoyed Drake's laid back attitude while in the face of danger. The lighter tone is a nice break from Tomb Raider, which I've also been playing through lately.

I'm confident that Drake and friends' wit and light-heartedness will keep me trucking along in this game despite some disappointing aspects. I bought the dual pack that includes the second game, so of course I'm looking forward to seeing how that one can improve on some of these rougher spots.

I've been playing a few other things. As I mentioned I've been playing Tomb Raider, and that's worth writing about. I've also been making my way through Runner 2, and trying to savor every moment. But let's wrap this one up for now. I have a tendency to go on too long, so those can wait for another blog.

The sun won't be out much longer for the day, so I'm going to go and enjoy it.

5 Comments

Cloudy With a Chance of Gaming

Yes, this stupidly named blog has returned for yet another week. I'm not sure why, as I've had a hard time writing anything for it. Despite that, I've managed to cobble some thoughts together on a few things, so I figured I'd throw them together and hope for an easier go at it next time. Let's do it.

Amy

Converting my experience with Amy into a string of words that are able to accurately convey my feelings on the game has proven much more difficult than I’d anticipated. Here’s a couple things to chew on, and we’ll try to go from there:

  1. I don’t hate Amy.
  2. I might like Amy.

For the uninitiated, Amy is a game of the survival horror genre which focuses on a mute little girl named, you guessed it, Amy. As Lana, Amy's caretaker, you quickly discover just how special Amy is when she begins to employ psychokinetic powers following a horrific train crash. Lana and Amy must work together to survive a virus outbreak that changes people into monsters—not dissimilar to the zombies-but-not storylines you’d find in a contemporary Resident Evil game.

As flawed as the game is as a whole, I came away from Amy with one dominating thought: it was impressive. Other thoughts ran through my mind as well: I thought the frame rate was inexcusably bad on a consistent basis. I thought several puzzles were nonsensical to the point of frustration. I thought the story arc lacked any sense of investment or satisfying resolution. Perhaps most damning, I thought the game’s core interaction often felt clumsy. But again, I came away impressed despite all of this, and I feel like I can attribute that largely to one thing: hand holding.

In my limited knowledge I can only think of one other game in which holding another character’s hand is designated a button, and that’s of course ICO. I’ve never played ICO, but now I feel like maybe I should. Admittedly it’s a fairly strange thing, but the act of grabbing Amy’s hand and refusing to let go as you break into a sprint and frantically navigate dark corridors in hopes of escaping a trailing threat is immensely satisfying. It’s the button-hold that makes this significant, I think. It’s one of those rare moments in games where the press of a button actually feels significantly appropriate. There are times when things will go bad pretty quickly and that protection instinct kicks in. I couldn’t help but want to protect Amy, and so grabbing her hand and pulling her out of danger was rewarding and built a satisfying relationship between these two characters. Lana and Amy, and their relationship, single-handedly makes this game interesting.

It’s a good thing, then, that the game places heavy focus on this relationship. The majority of puzzles rely on cooperation between Lana and Amy. Furthermore, Lana directly depends on a close proximity to Amy, as a kind of mystical healing aura radiating from Amy is what keeps the virus from overtaking Lana. Despite the plot points of the story being disinteresting, this mutually beneficial relationship gives you just enough to care about. It’s a relationship that feels similar to another one presented in a video game recently, that being the one between Lee and Clementine in The Walking Dead. That may seem like a stretch, but what Amy lacks in meaningful dialog and character building, it makes up for in copious amounts of satisfyingly tangible hand holding. And I’m only half joking. Maybe I have a soft spot for protecting children in video games, but Amy really nailed that feeling of being a protector, and that went a long way for me.

All that said, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. This game fails on so many levels, and it’s quite disappointing. It very much feels unfinished. Something I noticed: there’s a power wheel for Amy’s powers, and yet you only ever get two powers in the game. Why do you need a power wheel with so many slots for only two powers? Also, after finishing the game, you’re inside a hospital being raided by soldiers and outside is a priest with machine guns. This character was introduced about five seconds before the credit roll. He calls the hospital and offers ”divine intervention,” and then the game ends. Baffling. I would normally consider something like that a spoiler, but if you inconsequentially introduce a random character seconds before rolling the credits and expect anyone to care, well, I can’t help you.

At the end of the day, Amy has a charm that I can only describe as Deadly Premonition-esque. I think anyone who can overlook the flaws and appreciate that game can do so with Amy as well. It certainly has a place in my heart, horrific frame rate and all.

The Legend of Dragoon [Progress Report]

When I last checked in, I’d just started the game after impulse buying it from PSN. I was surprised at how well it all held up, but I had only played about two hours of it. Now I’ve surpassed the twenty hour mark, and I’m still feeling it.

As the game has progressed, the dialog and character interaction have become laughably bad. This is really my only gripe with the game, and yet it’s hardly a gripe when I’m laughing out loud at the supremely corny ham-fisted romance, cliche and juvenile character development, and questionably translated vocabulary. The relationship between the main character, Dart, and a young girl named Shana often forms the apex of the laughably awful bits. Shana is hopelessly in love with Dart, and yet Dart can only see her as more of a little sister. This of course frustrates Shana, but we all know that, deep down, Dart’s actually in love with her. It’s all very ridiculous, but entertaining in its own way.

Dart in Dragoon form

Then there’s the really good parts. The parts that have kept me playing for over twenty hours as of this writing, which easily surpasses my time with Ni no Kuni so far. Last time I talked about the combat and how it seemed deep and satisfying despite having only experienced the basics of it. Now that I’ve gotten deep into it, it’s only gotten more complicated. Addition attacks, as previously described, are attacks on top of your standard attack that require a varying amount of button presses to pull off depending on the move. At this point in the game I have a character named Albert who’s currently equipped Addition attack requires six button presses, all timed slightly differently. Most additions will be anywhere from one to three button presses, so this long move has taken me quite some time to master, and even now, it requires my complete focus to pull off. I wanted to record a video to better show off this battle system in action, but unfortunately my capture device isn’t compatible with 64-bit Windows 7. Suffice it to say there can be a lot going on in battles. At random moments during Addition attacks, the button prompt can switch to circle instead of X, indicating that the enemy is attempting a counter attack. If you miss that prompt, you take damage, and of course the remainder of the Addition is cancelled. The Addition system makes up the majority of the action in battles up to this point, but that’s a good thing because I’m enjoying the active element of it a lot. Leveling up Additions and swapping them out for different ones, with different timings, that provide different benefits, provides a satisfying strategic element.

Beyond that stuff, there’s the Dragoon transformations, which are as awesome as ever. All but one of my companions thus far has a Dragoon Spirit and are able to transform to use various magical abilities in battle. It’s good stuff. Every dragoon has a different elemental affinity, and the elements all have relationships in battle. But it's less rock-paper-scissors and more of a pair system. By that I mean that fire and water are directly opposed to each other. Water will do more damage to fire (as you may expect), but then fire will do more damage back at water as well. When you think about it, it doesn't really make sense, but it keeps things simple. Managing these elemental properties is becoming more and more key, so it's another fun layer to keep in the back of your mind.

The story has gotten a bit dull as of late, but my crew has just embarked on a boat journey in pursuit of a newly met enemy, so it's picking back up. I look forward to playing more, and I'll certainly check back in next blog.

News

I wanted to quickly mention a couple of things.

PlayStation 4

PlayStation 4 was announced. Yay? I enjoyed watching the show that Sony put on; it was a ton of fun. That said, I'm not jumping out of my chair to go out and buy a new console right now. I just bought a PS3. I've owned a 360 forever. I own a fairly capable PC. I'm covered for a while.

This has been the hot topic of discussion lately, so I won't go on and on; just a few points:

  • Knack looked bland. It looks like any other Sony first party character-focused platformer. I don't think it's a platformer, but you know what I mean. It has that classic Sony feel. The feel of something like Spyro, Ratchet, Jak, Sly, etc. What I've seen isn't doing it for me.
  • The ambitious online features are exciting. I want to be able to watch what someone else is playing at any given moment. Sounds super cool.
  • Sleep/Hibernation mode for consoles is an excellent idea.
  • Driveclub is not going to be a good game. And really? One word? C'mon.
  • Show me a box, Sony. Yes, it's important to me. I'm a fan of design, okay?

All in all, it was a fun show. I'm exited for the future of video games, but at the same time, I'm not that excited.

Rock Band DLC Going Away

I'm a huge fan of Harmonix and all they've done for video games over the years. I was first turned onto them with Guitar Hero 2, and my love blossomed from there. I became infatuated with Rock Band, and have lot of fond memories of playing the series with friends and family. I want to say I've completed the Steel Bladder achievement for RB2--the one requiring you to play for about eight hours straight, never pausing, never failing--like four times. I was obsessed. I still like to play from time to time.

I mentioned it on a comment on the news article that was posted by Alex, but my favorite DLC-downloading memory is of Rush's Moving Pictures album. I was on vacation staying at a huge rented house with a bunch of other family. I brought Rock Band so that the whole family could play--and play we did. Rock Band 2 was new at this time, so my family was super excited to try it. It was just a good time. Anyway, Moving Pictures--an absolute favorite album of mine--happened to be releasing while I was on that vacation. So of course I found a way to get the internet working and download the thing. I had to stay up until the very early hours of the morning, but dammit, nothing was going to stop me from getting my hands on that new DLC. I played every song through on guitar as to not wake everyone up with an attempted Neil Peart impression.

Moving Pictures was amazing, and it made up just a drop in my ocean of a song library. I've stopped buying DLC at such a high rate, but I still have hundreds and hundreds of songs. Honestly, my Rock Band library is all that kept me from selling my Xbox 360 at one point. Now I'll probably keep that system for as long as possible just to have access to that stuff.

So Rock Band DLC going away is a sad thing. The end of an era that I truly loved. I'm probably more emotional about this than others, as I feel that Harmonix's games have molded not only my gaming tastes, but my musical ones as well. But all good things must come to an end. Now I get to see where Harmonix goes from here, and that's pretty exciting.

Real Life

I know what you're thinking: real life sucks. It doesn't matter. It's boring. Well, you're pretty much right, but there's at least one exciting thing going on for me, which is that I'm looking at buying a car.

Now, this will be my first car. I'm not looking for anything too expensive--mostly because I'm poor. That said, I refuse to buy something that I'm going to hate. So right now I'm looking at a couple different cars. My first option would be a Mini Cooper S. My second would be a Volkswagen GTI. They're both decently priced when bought used, and both seem like good cars.

Mini Cooper SI really like the personality of the Mini. The "S" flavor has more horsepower than the base. Used, they can be had for anywhere from $8,000-15,000. The lower end of that is more my budget.
Volkswagen GTIThe GTI also has some good personality. I like the sleekness in comparison to the Mini. I haven't found any for as cheap as I'd like yet, but I'm still looking.

And that was my first foray into tables since the site redesign. Seems to have worked well enough. So yeah, if I can somehow score one of those cars, I'd be totally excited, but I'm open to other options as well. We'll see what happens.

That's all I have this time. I'm sorry this is such a mess of thoughts spewed about onto a virtual page, but that's the best I can do at the moment.

Have a grand weekend. Thanks for reading.

The Forecast

12 Comments

Cloudy With a Chance of Gaming -- Collector's Edition

Hi! It's been a while since I've done this. Lately I've been pondering picking my blogging back up regularly, but I have a lot going on, so we'll see. For now, I have a good bit I'd like to tell you all about. Settle in, because I've been playing some things.

The Legend of Dragoon

I bought a PS3 recently. You'd know as much if you'd read my last blog, but you didn't, and I don't blame you. Anyway, it's been less regrettable than I'd initially anticipated. It's opened up a new world of Sony exclusives, and I'm doing my best to take advantage. Earlier today I was browsing the PlayStation Store when I noticed one of my most beloved childhood games. Yes, The Legend of Dragoon. I was never the biggest JRPG fan, and I actually never even finished Dragoon, yet it still holds a special place in my heart as one of my fondest PlayStation era gaming memories. That and Wild Arms, I guess, but I've yet to revisit that one. For $5.99, this classic of a game can be had, and I couldn't pass it up.

Jumping into the game was slightly scary. I didn't want my nostalgia for this game to come crashing down around me. But then something amazing happened: it didn't--my nostalgic memories remained intact. Once I got past the incredibly corny intro FMV sequence, the game itself holds up astonishingly well. Visually, original PlayStation games usually look like garbage this day and age. As most of us remember, the transition to 3D was truly amazing at the time, but it usually doesn't hold up. Granted, this was a later game of this generation, releasing in late 1999 in Japan, just a few months prior to the PS2's launch, but I'm happy to say that this game holds up fine visually, and surprisingly in an array of other ways as well. It was a game ahead of its time, to be sure.

This is Dart... and I think he's wearing two belts.

The game opens with a quick CG cutscene in which a mysterious girl is taken away from a town in ruin. You're then introduced to the main character, Dart, whom I immediately recognized as "Hey! It's that guy!" but had no recollection that his name was Dart. Weird name, right? You'd think I'd have remembered that. Not to be too drawn out and laborious here: some JRPG shenanigans happen, Dart is saved from a giant dragon by a mysterious stranger almost certain to reappear down the line, returns to his savaged home town, dispatches of the remaining soldiers, promises to save the mysterious girl who was taken in the aforementioned cutscene, and begins his adventure proper.

Getting out into the overworld is where this game really started to surprise me with the things it does right. It's a random battle game, but it handles it well. As you're running around areas exploring, you see an arrow above Dart's head. This arrow progresses as you walk, from blue, to yellow, to red. After it reaches red, you'd better be ready to battle because it then could be on at any moment. This is smart! As I said before, I was never the biggest RPG guy, but I've played enough to know that random battles can become an extreme annoyance very quickly. But this simple little progressive arrow indicator gives the player some much needed peace of mind. Instead of living in fear of constant attack, potentially every two steps, you have a guaranteed buffer as well as a general idea of when to expect an encounter, and that's very much appreciated.

As far as actual battles go, those are also handled very well. The whole premise of the game, and probably what drew me in as a kid, was the idea that each character could transform into an alternate Dragoon form. To my kid mind, this was basically a high fantasy Power Rangers. Although if you want to get all technical, I guess Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog was the actual high fantasy Power Rangers...

But it's more or less the same idea.

I apologize, I just love that intro. Back to the combat now. It has something I love, and that's a real-time action element. Another JRPG I liked a whole lot was Lost Odyssey, and I'm of the opinion that the "ring" active battle mechanic pretty much saved that game's combat. Anyway, similar system here, albiet slightly more infuriating. Upon attacking an enemy, a square will quickly close in on a smaller square, and if you time the X button as they line up, you'll start an advanced attack called an Addition. Additions are learned from leveling up, and they're much more powerful follow-up attacks on top of your normal slice. I don't remember a ton about this game, but I believe these Additions become absolutely key. Later in the game, mastering the timing on a full party's collection of Addition moves becomes a necessary part of Not Dying. I vaguely remember back in the day losing a tough battle again and again due to some crazy Addition move minigame that involved rotating and hitting multiple buttons and, well, Madness. I'm hoping my older self will be able to grapple with the unforgivingly tight timing a bit better. I wish this game had latency correction, a la Rock Band and the like, but alas. The combat seems deep, intricate, and therefore satisfying. I haven't even learned any magic or transformations yet.

I'm not very far into the game, but I'm having a great time with it. It's very much an old school JRPG, which ties into something else I've been playing.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

As part of my initial PlayStation Triple buying experience, I picked up both Ni no Kuni as well as the Journey Collector's Edition (more on that in a bit).

Ni no Kuni is essentially what made me buy a PS3. Is that crazy? I feel like that's super crazy. I'll say it one more time: I've never been the biggest JRPG guy. And yet the wonder of the world that's been created, as well as the stunning art, combined to draw me in in a way I hadn't anticipated. I'm not a Level-5 fan, necessarily. I'm not a Studio Ghibli fan, necessarily. So it's a strange thing, right? But seeing this game in action via one Bradley Shoemaker's quick look just hit the pleasure centers in my brain and wouldn't let go until I bought a PS3 and played it.

The aesthetic consists of pure, concentrated happiness.

I like it. I can't say I love it yet, but I really like a lot about it. Thing is, it still feels like I'm being introduced to the game, and I'm about 14 hours in. This probably isn't new to the genre, and I recall the Final Fantasy XIII outcry over the 20+ hour run up to the "actual" game, but it just seems like things are taking a tad long to get going. That's not to say it hasn't been fun, though.

I really like Oliver as a character, and Drippy has a spot in my heart as well. I have to be honest, the first time I saw Drippy on the QL and Brad commented on how likable he is, I didn't see it. But he really grows on you, and after a handful of hours, I'd grown to love the little fella. I'm finally getting to the point where I feel like my imagination is doing his accent justice during the unspoken bits. I currently have a party of two, and I've met my next potential party member (which I've seen in trailers), but haven't gotten him to join me yet.

The combat is a point I'm fairly mixed on right now. I like the Pokemon-esque thing they have going on, but it feels like the flow of battles isn't intended for a controller or something. It feels like there's too much going on to be able to control. Maybe that's intentional. Maybe I just haven't fully wrapped my mind around it yet. I'd love to hear other's opinions on this. Perhaps some light could be shed that would lead me to better manage the chaos. Because that's honestly what battles often seem like: loosely controlled chaos.

I'm enjoying doing every last bit of side content I can find, but sometimes it gets tiring having to trek back and forth without any kind of fast travel. It feels so good each time I help someone out and get stamps for my stamp card, which I can then trade in for fabulous abilities such as jumping! I honestly don't know why jumping is unlockable. It even says right in the description that it's useless. And so what did I do? I spent a card on it. And so did/will you--don't even.

Ni no Kuni is fairly new, so I'm sure people have already discussed it to death at this point. But I'm liking it. I feel like I'm on the cusp of things really opening up, as I've just gotten the last icon of my main menu revealed. I'm well on my way to saving the world.

Journey Collector's Edition

This of course consists of all three of thatgamecompany's well-received PSN releases. In order of initial release:

Flow

I haven't played it yet.

Flower

I started this game a couple of days ago and came back to beat it earlier today. Flower has always interested me. It's something I was never quite sure of, but always wanted to play. And now I can! so I did! It was okay.

This is obviously a beautiful game. And playing the part of the wind in a video game is certainly novel. The best moments of the game come when you hit a spot that speeds up the wind and you're whipping along at ridiculous speeds through canyons and such. Hitting flowers and having the little musical chimes come off of them gives the game a pleasing musical element. It's a nice game, it really is. The experience is very much relaxing--at least when you're not fighting with the controls.

If I'm honest, the sixaxis control irked me. I felt like it held me back from being able to fly through the fields and collect flower pedals in the way I wanted--which is to say with any sort of accuracy. Sometimes it worked well, but not at all often enough. When the core mechanics of the game are this frustrating in spots, it's hard to overlook, no matter how cool other aspects may be.

Speaking of cool aspects, I found the story to be fairly interesting. To be quite honest, I'd probably get a good bit out of it if I went through the game again, but on the surface, it's about rebuilding a city. It has a very Okami-esque thing going on with the spreading of life throughout the world. It builds nicely, and the end of the game is simply delightful in the way you finally bring the city back to life with an amalgamation of previously collected life-spreading techniques.

Flower is a beautiful experience, and one that I did enjoy, even if it wasn't always the pure bliss I'd hoped for.

Journey

And then Journey came along. This one was the pure bliss I'd heard about, and hoped for.

I'm pretty sure I love everything about Journey. It's easy to comment on the visuals here. Yes, it's drop dead gorgeous. The shimmering sands are a sight to behold. The game's ever-shifting atmosphere is something that simply must be witnessed. But it's a lot more than that. I feel like this game has no faults. It's like a perfectly crafted short story. It knows what it wants to do and how it wants to do it. I'm always interested in alternative methods of storytelling, and I feel like this is a brilliant example. It's emotionally powerful. Journey is epic, mysterious, terrifying, sorrowful, and triumphant, all without a character speaking a single word.

The integrated co-op implemented here is revolutionary. I'd heard about it, and how it aimed to remove the judgements people naturally make toward each other when playing online, but it really hit me when playing just how brilliant it is. I had no clue who I was playing with, and yet I'd developed near instant bonds with each of them. Chirping at each other in place of voice communication is the best thing they could have possibly done with this game, and I'd actually like to see more of this in other games. Of course some games require more non-obvious and intricate coordination, but I think this idea is pure genius, and I hope to see similar concepts in cooperative multiplayer games going forward.

Gosh, I really don't even know what else I want to say about this game. I wouldn't want to spoil anything. It's quite the experience. If somehow you own a PS3 and haven't yet played Journey, go do so. You'll be glad you did.

That's all I want to talk about for the time being. Although, I do have a PlayStation Plus membership for the next year and three months, so I'll have plenty to write about, should I choose to. I also bought the infamous Tokyo Jungle at the same time as Legend of Dragoon, but I haven't gotten to play it yet. My soul yearns for that particular brand of madness.

Anyway, thanks for reading.

The Forecast

22 Comments