Category Archives: Meta

On The End of the Party

First things first: It’s the final day of the Job Fiesta. I challenged a bunch of people and only 3 have shown evidence of completion, so I guess I owe $30.

Personally, I turned in two completions of my own.

Without any contributions from people seeing how the results came out, the Fiesta earned $10,385.64 as of this writing. If it keeps growing like this every year, it will become one of the larger events for Child’s Play. I know a large amount of money comes in from Something Awful, so many thanks should be extended to them each year.

It’s also the end of Blaugust, and all of the festivities that entails. It’s been fun, etc., etc. I could say that I hated everything and everyone, but that would be untruthful and my actual thoughts can be found here.

With the ending of things, it’s time to start anew. A new D&D campaign is starting tomorrow, and my Dragonborn Paladin will show up, probably to ruin everything. With the end of the Job Fiesta I can use my PSP to go back to playing Breath of Fire 3 (although I want to beat Azure Striker Gunvolt first.) Destiny’s coming out in just over a week. A friend is starting a new job, and it’s a time of transition for a lot of people. Hopefully the end of things just means new things are getting started, and I’ll be here to chronicle wherever things take me.

Records of the month can be found here
. Thanks for the trip, Bel!

On Blaugust, Redux

Blaugust is almost over, and I have a few thoughts on the whole process. Kodra wrote about the same thing yesterday, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on it.

Worth

First, I believe the event was absolutely worth it for me personally. I’m a lot more comfortable writing things on relatively short timelines. I feel like I know a bit more about what sort of posts people actually click on (and while it might help, I’m still not going to change how I title my posts). Some of my habits while playing games have changed a bit. I’m always looking for ways to take screenshots now, and taking note of things that work and things that don’t, so I can say things about the games I play other than “It was fun” or “It sucked”.

More importantly, it’s been a good way for me to see what other people are writing about. I’ve taken the opportunity to see a lot of content from people who weren’t part of NBI (and some people that were, but I wasn’t following that closely). Special mentions in particular to Isey and Murf, who’ve given me plenty of ideas about things to write about, whether they know it or not. Both Rae and Kodra (fellow Aggrochat participants) used the opportunity to start posting more. Because this is as good a place as any to mention it, Tam has also started a blog this month (although if he manages to write 31 posts before the end of the month I’ll be both shocked and impressed).

But…

However, I’m pretty sure I’m going to go back to posting 2-3 times a week in September, probably starting the second week of September. It’s had the desired effect on me, and I’m going to finish out the month, but daily posting is not something I’m willing to do long-term. It’s a bit easier during the week, especially if I can get a draft up (or sometimes a post, if it doesn’t need actual screenshots) during lunch. It suffers a lot on the weekends, when I’d rather be playing games than writing about them using that time. There have also been a few days where I worked on a post, and then decided that it needed more work than I had time for and posted something else instead. (This is what happened yesterday, I’m sure the original idea will surface eventually).

A journey of self-discovery is worth it even if we fall a bit short of the end goal, so this one satisfies. You should really check out the Blaugust Initiative for more posts on a variety of topics by other people. Did I mention that Tam wrote an introductory post?

On an Ash NPC

I think this is the first time I’m resorting to one of the prompts for this event, but here goes.

If you were an NPC in a video game, what type of NPC would you be?

First, this is cheating. Random ESO NPC aside, I’d probably be an inconveniently located trainer. I’ve got a bit of a reputation for knowing things, and I frequently like being away from people. I’m not sure I’d go to a place like Uldaman, because there are reasonable limits to this sort of thing. (Seriously, that was bullshit.) I could see myself as a druid trainer, living in the wilderness, forcing people to come find me if they want to know my secrets.

On the other hand, I might be a random mob, zone-sweeper style (think Fel Reavers or Morladim). I could also see myself as a big bear, chasing after low-level players for no good reason. Maybe if the game was sophisticated enough, chasing after the person with the most food in their inventory or something. FF14 had Phecda, but now that B-rank hunt mobs are non-hostile, the effect of a giant bear running after you is lost.

I guess it’ll just be a short one today. For more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust Initiative.

On Difficulty

This is kind of related to what Liore and Belghast have posted recently, but as I just hit on it in two recent posts myself, I figure it’s worth expanding on my thoughts.

My first experience with “difficulty level mockery” was in the Touhou series. All of the games in the series (since the 6th one at least) have 4 difficulty modes: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Lunatic. The first game in the series to release on Windows (Embodiment of Scarlet Devil) locked you out of the final level (and thus, the good ending) if you played on Easy. All of them have some additional text in the difficulty screen, usually mocking you somewhat for picking Easy (although occasionally also mocking you for picking Hard or Lunatic). Ten Desires has the following to say about its difficulties:

Prayer for Health and Long Life Easy Mode Hard to die.
For those who want to live long as possible.
Prayer for Traffic Safety Normal Mode Find a safe way to go.
Have a nice trip.
Prayer for Business Prosperity Hard Mode If you’re confident in your abilities.
You should be able to make a profit.
Prayer for IT Data Security Lunatic Mode Asking gods for help is pointless.
Don’t play this.

Just for reference, This is Ten Desires on Easy mode:

This phenomenon isn’t unique to Japanese games. Syder Arcade’s default difficulty cuts your score in half because it’s for “those who grew up with modern consoles”. (This implication, that modern games are “easier” than those that came before is also common.)

So why do we do this? There are probably players better and worse than you at nearly any game I’d care to name, so why focus on the second? I don’t actually have answers to these questions, or at least not answers that don’t make me sound like a cynical old man.

I’m not sure every game needs selectable difficulty, but games without it should be somewhat carefully designed. Examples I can think of that teach you how to play them before asking impossible things of you include VVVVVV and Shovel Knight. The idea that it’s okay to have a difficulty curve that resembles a cliff is also part of this problem. Many roguelikes are guilty of this, and claim that if you can’t understand them, then it’s not “meant” for you. I’d really prefer if we could be more encouraging to people adjusting to things. Touhouwiki has a page geared toward beginners that helps a lot (although it still tries to discourage starting on easy at the bottom). More things like this, and less making fun of people playing on easy would be appreciated all around.

That got a bit rambly at the end. For more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust initiative.

On What’s In a Name

Names are Hard. I’ve been playing a series of Tabletop games, and it’s pretty much always the hardest part. My general online handle, HiddenWings, came about shortly after high school. It’s taken directly from a song title posted to an online music site that I’m surprised to see still exists. (When I found it, there was literally no artist name posted.) I’ve been using it since 2007 on forums, and since 2008 in games on PSN and Steam. It’s become my go-to default username ever since.

Even less creative is my go-to character name. Ashgar was a character in the GBA game Magi-Nation, and also a card in the related TCG (which I knew very little about at the time). In the game, Ashgar is the not-very-bright elder of Cald, the fire region. He does have in his possession a key that opens almost every door in the entire game; you have to steal it as part of the plot. (As a side note, there are severe penalties for not returning it before a certain point when he notices it’s missing.) The idea that “Ashgar’s Key” could open everything was fascinating to me, and so I remembered the name. It became the name of my horde-side druid in the summer of 2007, and since that was my first character to see serious play, the name stuck. When I transferred to Argent Dawn the name was taken, and so the name Ashfang came about.

Ashgar
Other names come from other places. When I need a full name (especially for a human), I tend to look up name meanings and pick something that has the right feeling, even if these names have completely different origins, or would be unlikely to occur together due to being popular in different parts of the world. Zane Dimetrius is from a variation on my actual name, and a surname meaning “Earth-lover”, an appropriate name for the earth mage that the name represented. Another example is Trevor Lowell, a name for a werewolf of sorts from nowhere special. This one’s a bit of a joke, as the names mean “big town” and “little wolf”. I liked that one enough that it became the name of my TSW character. As I play more things my stable of names slowly expands, but I’ll probably keep using a lot of the same ones whenever I can make similar characters.

For more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust Initiative. This post is inspired by Tyluroth’s post on his names from yesterday.

On Obstacles

It’s interesting to consider the things that keep me from posting a blog post every day. I try to maintain a twice a week posting rate, although I haven’t done a good job of keeping to any particular schedule. There have been several times when I wrote most of a post and it hasn’t gone up until the next day, even though I spent probably under an hour on the actual writing part. This is examining the things that cause delays, in order to help me (and perhaps others) better avoid them this month.

1. Not Enough Pretty Pictures

I try to include some imagery with almost everything I post, but I’m not in the practice of taking screenshots much. I used to take more when I was playing WoW, but I got out of the habit when I started tanking raids. The boss’s feet and legs usually don’t make for a good screenshot, and I had other things in mind anyway.

What usually happens here is that I start to write something, realize I have no relevant screenshots, and delay the post until I can take some. I’m getting better at taking screenshots as I play (this is really easy for Steam games) so hopefully this one won’t happen as much in the future.

Sahagin

2. Not Interesting Enough

I originally had some grand standard in mind for my posts, that they should inform and entertain all at once, and also be on whatever the current hot topic is. Unfortunately, this isn’t really compatible with how I think or how I play games, so the posting schedule suffered. Some cool things did come out of it though, like the post about Transistor.

This venture is to teach me that there’s a middle ground between writing War and Peace and writing about my breakfast. It’s okay to post about random adventures in the things I’m doing. That’s what the blog’s allegedly about anyway.

carrier unlocked

3. Too Personal

This one doesn’t come up as much, but it has stopped me a few times. I attempted to write the post that became about podcasting a few times, but stopped because it primarily discusses me. This is a bigger hurdle than the others, for me. What I said there is true, I’m a fairly reserved person.

There’s time to fix that, I suppose. I have 29 more of these to write after this, and I can’t imagine I’ll keep myself out of all of them.

relaxing
Edit:
I forgot to mention this when it went up, but for more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust Initiative.

On Influences

A while back, a friend posed a question to a group of us, asking what 15 games had most influenced us. Bel posted about it a while back, and I came up with my list around the same time. It’s now the first post of Blaugust. These are in roughly the order in which I encountered them, which means that they’re roughly arranged by date, but not quite. Trimming the list to 15 games is hard, and each of these led to other similar games in almost all cases.

Sonic 2 (1992)

This is the game I would credit with getting me into video games in general. My earliest memories of gaming are of me playing as Tails in this game. Tails is essentially invincible, but can be a valuable co-op partner if the person controlling him is good. Even if they’re not (and when this came out I certainly wasn’t), it’s not a real drawback. This being one of my first experiences is probably why I value co-op games so highly now.

Honorable Mention: Super Mario World

sonic_1 sonic_2 sonic_3

Overkill (1992)

I’ve talked about Overkill before, so I won’t expand here. This is the first game I “beat” on my own (Like a lot of games in the genre, Overkill starts again harder when you beat the last stage), and it established my love of scrolling shooters.

Honorable Mention: Touhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom

overkill1 overkill2 Overkill_menu

Street Fighter 2 (1992)

This is a bit of an odd case. I played Street Fighter 2 with friends before any of us knew what we were doing, or how to do a fireball motion or any of that, and found it fun. I learned what a Hadouken was too late to put any of it to practice in these matches or in the arcade, but memories of those experiences are why I found fighting games fun. I eventually enjoyed the more over-the-top games (BlazBlue, Marvel vs. Capcom) more than Street Fighter, but this one remains special.

Honorable Mention: Tekken 2

Street_Fighter_1 Street_Fighter_2 Street_Fighter_3

Illusion of Gaia (1994)

Illusion of Gaia (or Illusion of Time if you’re in Europe) was my first “Action-RPG” of sorts. This is the game that taught me that games could have actual stories beyond “rescue the princess” or “stop the bad guy”. This game in particular is somewhat difficult, so I didn’t actually beat it on a real SNES; I played it to completion on an emulator years later.

gaia_1 gaia_2 gaia_3

Mario Kart 64 (1997)

The joy of multiplayer, now with twice the players. Mario Kart 64 was my first 4-player game, and therefore the first game around which gatherings were specifically held. Prior to this, gaming was something my friends and I did while hanging out, this marked the start of hanging out specifically to play games.

Honorable Mention: Star Fox 64

MK_select MK_wario MK_rainbow

Mega Man X4 / Mega Man 8 (1997)

These released in the same year, use almost the same sprite for the main character, and were played by me literally back to back, so they can share this slot. They also share terrible voice acting (but I didn’t know better back then) and relatively high difficulty (which is common to the series). This was the expansion of my earlier enjoyment of the Mario and Sonic games, but with an additional layer of complexity that wasn’t just “jump on enemies”. I went back and played a lot of the earlier games later, and they’re also great. The same can’t be said for what came after…

mm8_1 mm8_2 mmx4

Pokemon Red/Blue (1998)

This might as well be My First JRPG, but it’s hiding some ridiculousness underneath. The simple nature of this game and ease of understanding the basics got me in, and trading with friends kept me in. As I got older, I grew to enjoy the complicated parts.

pokemon_1 pokemon_2 pokemon_3

Legend of Dragoon (2000)

This game made me aware that JRPGs as a genre were a thing I was interested in. Legend of Dragoon grabbed me in a way Final Fantasy 7 did not*, and it became my life for a period of time in 2001. The story is a bit cliché, and the translation is terribad (they couldn’t keep things consistent). But the combat system requiring timed button presses is fun (others have described it as “tedious”) and it has beautiful backgrounds and animations for the PS1 era.

*I died to the guard scorpion because I didn’t know “Attack while the tail’s up” was a mistranslation and it’s the same ATB tutorial boss the series used since FF4. I was 10; I hadn’t played any of the SNES games yet.

dragoon_1 dragoon_2 dragoon_3

Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001)

AKA the most fun I had with a multiplayer game since Mario Kart. Despite what some people say, this is a fighting game at its core, so a lot of the same principles of spacing and timing apply. At the same time, the simple nature of inputs and the chaotic nature of combat allow for people without much knowledge of the game to play and have fun. The skill ceiling is rather high, so it’s possible to see experienced players completely destroy beginners, but it can stay fun as long as the skill gap isn’t too wide.

Final Fantasy 5 (1992)

My favorite Final Fantasy, which is surprising when people learn I played this after 4 and 6, and it was the fan-translated version on an emulator. I’ve also talked about this one before. (As a reminder, you have exactly one month to finish/join the Fiesta.) My love of systems was established by this game, and it hasn’t worn off. Pieces of it still shine through in later Final Fantasy games, most notably in Tactics, X-2, and 14.

FF5_1 FF5_2 FF5_3

Shining Soul 2 (2004)

This is probably the game in the list that other people are least likely to have played. Shining Soul is a dungeon crawler of sorts for the Game Boy Advance, featuring a variety of characters and a very simple story. I picked this up because I liked the dragon, but I ended up playing more of the wolf. I’m fairly certain this was the start of my trend of playing non-humans in things that allow it, in addition to the start of me actually enjoying dungeon crawlers.

Honorable Mention: Diablo 2

SS2_1 SS2_2 SS2_3

World of Warcraft (2004)

I didn’t play WoW until 2007, right when Burning Crusade came out. By sheer virtue of the number of players it had at its peak, World of Warcraft was the first MMO for many people, and I count myself among that crowd. It’s thanks to WoW that I met a bunch of the people I now associate with, including Belghast and Kodra. It’s had ups, it’s had downs, but what I think of as an MMO is shaped almost entirely by World of Warcraft, from my preferred roles to what kinds of classes I like.

WoWScrnShot_012010_001700 WoWScrnShot_032610_011519 WoWScrnShot_011009_191706

Mass Effect (2008)

Mostly what Mass Effect did was teach (or re-teach) that I didn’t dislike shooters. I played a bunch of Goldeneye when that was relevant, and a fair bit of Halo 2 in high school, but after that everything seemed to be Call of Duty and competitive multiplayer, and I wasn’t a big fan. Mass Effect brought me back in a number of ways, mostly thanks to RPG mechanics and abilities. Mass Effect 3 did even more, thanks to the greatly expanded abilities on show in the multiplayer.

ME_1 ME_2 ME_3

Bastion (2011)

Bastion is a marvel of sound design. It’s also pretty and plays well, but those are honestly secondary to the music and the narration. This opened me up to the difference sound can make in a game. Without the work of Darren Korb and Logan Cunningham, Bastion would be a good, but not terribly special top-down action game, and it would draw unfavorable comparisons to things like Diablo or Sacred 2. The music and voice are what distinguish it. (My personal favorite track is Spike in a Rail.)

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

I played Oblivion when it came out and didn’t like it very much. I tried it again in 2008 and liked it more, but not enough to “finish” it. Skyrim engaged me in a way that Oblivion did not, and the streamlining of certain things (like attributes) made the experience much more enjoyable for me. Oblivion (and GTA) made me think I didn’t like Open World games, and Skyrim taught me otherwise.

Honorable Mention: Saint’s Row 3

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Final Words

Now that I’m here at the end, this is kind of a ridiculous post. Expect most of my Blaugust posts to be about a 5th of this. Thanks to MobyGames for the vast majority of the screenshots.

Edit:
Forgot to mention this when it went up, but for more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust Initiative.

On Blaugust

The major advantage to writing a blog post in the afternoon is that I can “borrow” topics from people who post in the morning. This has been convenient more than a few times, and today is one of those times. Belghast has been posting daily since April of last year, and today he challenged others to do the same for the month of August. And to that, I think I have only one thing to say:

Challenge Accepted

There are two main reasons I started blogging during this year’s NBI. The first was to have a bit of an outlet for my random thoughts, because I have a lot of random thoughts, mostly (but not entirely) relating to gaming. The second reason was simply to write more. I’ve been sticking to two posts a week, albeit rather erratically, and I think I could probably kick it up a few notches. I’m generally a rather reserved person, and this has helped me to express some things I otherwise might not have.
blaugust

With Reservations

As an additional note, Bel mentions posting a bit more personally, and I don’t think that’s going to happen this month. I’d like to keep this web space a bit more focused on my hobbies, rather than my personal life. But expect to see an expansion in the types of things I talk about, because staying focused on one thing for days at a time is just unlikely to happen for me. (Then again, my yearly obsession with FF5 does paint a different picture.) It’ll be an experiment for me. I don’t know how grand it will end up, but it should at least be entertaining. If you’re interested in doing the same, the community is here on Anook.

On Podcasting

At this point, there have been twelve episodes of the Aggrochat podcast, which you can find in the sidebar. I’ve been in nine of them, meaning that it was about three months ago that Belghast approached myself and the rest of the normal cast about starting it. For a few reasons, I was hesitant about the idea at first, but I went along with it and things seem to be working out.

I am not naturally an outspoken person. I have previously been described (by other people on the podcast) as “chill”, “stoic”, “serious”, or other words that imply I don’t talk a lot. In addition, when I do talk I talk too fast and have a tendency to omit words. I think I sometimes come across as a know-it-all, despite efforts to tone it down when I’m talking to new people. All of this would make me think myself unsuitable for a podcast, if not for a few things. I’m told that I have a great speaking voice (and sometimes singing voice, but you will never, ever hear it). And as part of an earlier point, I’ve gained a bit of a reputation for knowing a lot of (sometimes useless) things.

Professor Ashgar

That last part is probably why I was asked to be on in the first place. I have an above-average memory for mechanics and random information. I know what most of the items in League of Legends do by name, even ones no one buys like Guinsoo’s Rageblade. (I don’t know what Vilemaw’s buff does, however.) During my raiding period in World of Warcraft, I knew theoretically how to play classes that weren’t ones I played personally, and what stats were valuable to what specs for everyone in the raid. This continues into games we play now; I tend to figure out most boss mechanics on the first or second try. I know oddball strategies for most of the bosses in FF5, which comes in handy on the Fiestas.

I could go on, but at this point I’m merely proving some of my earlier comments. I am the group’s walking information repository, and I’ve come to accept that as my role sometimes. This doesn’t come up a lot, but I’m actually the youngest one on the podcast, so it’s a bit of an odd situation. I don’t know everything, and sometimes things are mentioned that are simply before my time or beyond my experiences. I got into console gaming in the Genesis/SNES generation, and didn’t have my own system until the PlayStation. My first MMO is World of Warcraft*, so any experience with anything prior comes from what I’ve heard others say. This mix of experiences is what makes the podcast work, I think.

With a Little Help

This is still not a venture I’d be comfortable doing alone. It’s hard for me to think of myself as interesting, but I can see how someone might be interested in the random conversations were were already having before we started the podcast. Bel, Rae, Kodra, Tam, and Dallian are all great to work with. (I’m sure Waren is too, but the only one he’s been on I was gone for.) The final result is a variety of information sources, interests, and backgrounds talking about stuff, and things, and the stuff about the things. This is fun, and seems to work. Give it a listen if you haven’t already.

 

*This is technically not true. My first MMO experience was the beta for Wish, a vaporware MMO.

On Things That Turn Into Other Things

Everyone has their preferred character archetypes. In D&D terms, everyone is familiar with the traditional Fighter, Mage, and Thief, so most games try to provide player characters with options along those lines. Other games expand a bit more, with a healer archetype (sometimes a variation of the mage) or an archer archetype (sometimes a variation of the thief). More classes are usually created by combining these in some way. The Barbarian is a combination of the swiftness and light armor of a thief with the power and strength of a fighter. My favorite archetype is a different sort of combination: the shape-shifter.

In a way, shape-shifting characters are usually a combination of the thief and mage archetypes in that they are (usually) magic-users with tools to adapt to a variety of different situations. More generally, it’s characterized by the ability to switch between archetypes. The stereotypical example is the Druid, which is usually given a variety of nature-based spells to heal or harm, and the ability to turn into animals when spells aren’t an appropriate solution. There are other characters that fit this archetype that aren’t the druid, like the lead character of the Breath of Fire series, who turns into a variety of dragons.

There is the lesser example of things with a single alternate form, like most depictions of werewolves. In games, this usually manifests as some sort of temporary power up or super mode (which I like a bit less), but it’s sometimes an alternate form with different strengths and weaknesses from the “base” form. League of Legends likes this model a lot, using it for Nidalee, Elise, and Jayce (sort of).

Balancing this character type has historically been difficult, and for good reason. If one person can duplicate the jobs of three or four at a moment’s notice, it risks eliminating the need for the more focused characters. The traditional tradeoff for this is usually decreased effectiveness at any one role, but this leaves the shape-shifter marginalized in any situation where a single task is valued. “Alternate form” types tend to fall into this trap especially often, where the strengths of one form do not sufficiently cover for its weaknesses, leading to use of only one. (Nidalee in League is perhaps the best example of this.)

Some games balance the ability to do everything by forcing a choice of role, and decreasing the effectiveness of other forms or roles. WoW is the best example here, but D&D Next seems to also use this approach. An alternate approach is limiting the ability to transform in some way. Breath of Fire 4 has both a transformation and a perpetuation cost, so you can’t stay a dragon forever. (I think BoF1 only had a transformation cost, but I haven’t played it in a while.) These have shown to be acceptable ways to balance the power level of this type of character, and I wish more games would use them rather than declaring it too difficult and leaving my favorite archetype out.

 

As a final note: It’s the final day to make donations for The Run, influencing what jobs two members of SDA will use when playing through FF5. I’m still working my way through as well.