Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Difference Between Tedium And Challenge

A tweet from one esteemed Mr. Paul Soares Jr. kind of annoyed me today.  He's always had this habit of saying that Minecraft needs to be harder, and then suggesting something that either increases resource drain for no reward or that makes the player have to do the same things repeatedly.  Such is the case with this tweet, reproduced below for the lazy.

rage-inducing tweet from PSJ
In a later tweet, he acknowledged that "as" was a typo and said it should be "and" instead.
I haven't used a jump break in forever, so...  More after the break!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bravely Default

So as I mentioned in my previous post, along with my red 3DS XL, I bought a copy of Bravely Default.  I've got about about six and a half hours of gameplay under my belt so far, and stuff has happened story-wise, so here are my thoughts on the game.

Bravely Default is a pretty neat RPG.  Its main gameplay mechanics (Brave and Default) allow you to gamble with your turns in battle.  Take a few extra actions immediately (Brave), but not be able to do anything with that character for a few turns, or save your turn (Default) and get multiple actions in a later turn (Brave).  At first it sounds kind of weird, but so far it's worked quite well at letting me strategize in battle.  The use of it that's easiest for me to explain is saving turns on your healer (who probably won't have a very good attack anyway), so if you have to do a bunch of cleanup after a particularly nasty attack, you can get it all over with in one turn and bounce back that much faster.

That's just the tip of the "interesting mechanics" iceberg.  In the in-game menus you can adjust your encounter rate.  The game has the dreaded random battles, but this option lets you decide how often you get pulled into one.  So if you really just want to get back to town, you can turn them off entirely, or if you're looking to sit in one place and level up, you can crank it up and make that whole process go faster.  For someone like me who habitually grinds in console RPGs, this is an amazing feature, especially when coupled with a few other things I'll mention in the next paragraph.

While in battle, you can use the d-pad to speed up the animations of your characters and the enemies attacking.  Whatever speed you leave it at, it stays there until you change it again.  Also, by hitting Y, you can turn on Auto mode, which makes your characters attack without you having to press a button.  Combine this with jacking up the encounter rate, and grinding out a few levels when you want them goes pretty quickly.

The game also has a job system, which I personally really like.  Yes, it adds complexity to the game, but it's a good complexity.  It lets you choose precisely how you want your party to function, meaning you can customize your role-playing experience and have your party fight with your own unique fighting style that you prefer.  To aid you in setting this up, each job has a grade with each weapon and armor type, and this grade will show everywhere you ever wanted it to, meaning it's easy to see what equipment you should be equipping for a specific character with a specific job.  Also, each character has their own outfit for each job, so there's a visual element to choosing your party composition as well.

It integrates with the 3DS StreetPass feature, letting you get powerful allied attacks from people.  You can also select an option in the save menu that will go grab some random people's attacks off of the internet, if you ever find yourself lacking in StreetPasses.  Also integrated is the sleep mode feature on the 3DS.  Every eight hours you leave your 3DS in sleep mode with the game running, you'll get a "Sleep Point" you can use to completely ignore the turn-based nature of the game's combat and injecting extra actions whenever you want.  You can also pay real money for three Sleep Points as opposed to having to wait eight hours for one, but since the entire thing is optional, feel free to ignore it.

Alongside the regular gameplay is a minigame of sorts that's running constantly in the background.  In the very beginning of the game, the main character's village is destroyed and he's the only survivor.  He ends up in charge of rebuilding the village, and the minigame is precisely this.  For every StreetPass Mii you have, your village gains a citizen, that you can put to work helping to rebuild.  Everything has a certain amount of time it takes to complete, and putting more people on something will reduce that amount of time.  You can start this going in the background and go about your business with the game's normal gameplay, and come back to find you now have an item shop or something.  I currently have six citizens who've been working their asses off reclaiming sections of the city and upgrading things.

Throughout the game, you'll find a trader from this village who will trade you things from the village.  You also get random things from him from time to time, just by checking up on the village's progress (I just opened my 3DS and was greeted with three consumable items from him).  He also acts as a save point within dungeons.

Every time you bring up the save screen or the party menu, the game uses the lower screen to remind you of what you're supposed to be doing, which I greatly appreciate.  It lets you put down the game and do other things for a while, and then easily remember where you needed to go next when you pick it up the next time.

Since we've been talking about the settings for the game, I'll bring up that you can change the audio language to Japanese.  Sadly, I didn't see a way to do it before the opening cutscene, but once I could bring up the party menu and inspect the settings, I found it and enabled it immediately.  I have noticed that the opening cutscene can be viewed again from the title screen, as well as two options below it which are currently question marks (yay unlockable stuff!).

I've noticed this, and after I did so the game made mention of it: You can do almost everything in the game entirely with your left hand.  The analog nub thing is your movement, left and right on the d-pad can be confirm and cancel (as well as opening up the menu on the lower screen and scrolling through it), and L lets you talk to people and interact with things.

Time to wrap this post up.  Bravely Default is a good JRPG with mechanics that keep gameplay fresh.

So I Bought A 3DS...

Here's the story.  A few Christmases ago, I was given two $25 gift cards to Best Buy.  I don't really shop at Best Buy much, so I didn't use them until yesterday.  I figured hey, it's essentially $50 off of a 3DS XL and a game to go with it...

So I grabbed myself a red 3DS XL and a copy of Bravely Default, for about as much as the cost of the 3DS XL.

Can I take some time to mention how much I hate when people try to upsell stuff at the cash register?  No, I don't want your extended warranty, and no, I don't want a credit card, even if applying will get me $10 off of what I'm buying.  I don't even do upsell donations at grocery stores or fast food places.  If I'm going to donate to some charity, I'm going to donate directly to them, instead of doing so on impulse at point-of-sale for something completely unrelated.

Anyway, to me it seems like the 3DS has settings to set all over the place.  Every separate thing on the home screen has its own settings, even outside of the system settings themselves.  I think I have everything set up, but don't ask me where a specific setting is because I won't remember.  I'd much prefer it if all the settings were organized into one place, rather than being spread out across the entire console.

As for the stereoscopic 3D from which it gets its name, it works pretty well, being capable of both adding depth to the picture and making things jump out.  It does have a bit of a finnicky sweet spot that you need to hold the console at, and requires a fairly specific viewing angle on the screen if you want to avoid seeing "ghosts", which is what I'm calling the two separate images it's blasting at your eyeballs.

Among the stuff you'd expect it to come with, it also has some Augmented Reality cards.  These require a fair amount of light to work, but they're kind of neat, I guess.

After derping around with the stuff that's present on the system when you first turn it on, I popped in Bravely Default.  As it turns out, it's got its own AR card on the back of the booklet it comes with that triggers a cutscene at the beginning of the game, which was pretty neat since I had to move the 3DS around to watch it as people moved around.  I'd definitely recommend moving the stereoscopic 3D depth slider to the off position when viewing this cutscene or any similar cutscenes in other games, though, because of the aforementioned finnicky sweet spot and viewing angle required for the stereoscopic 3D.  Unless you have some sort of a harness that you can fasten to your head that holds the 3DS at the perfect distance and angle for the stereoscopic 3D to work.

More about Bravely Default in another post, because I've been wanting a decent portable RPG for a while now and it fits the bill quite nicely.

Monday, March 24, 2014

On The Final Stretch

As the title suggests, things are winding down in my quest to obtain a fully maxed out save on my SNES cartridge of Chrono Trigger.

Earlier tonight I completed the Northern Ruins/Hero's Grave side quest for the fourth time, and coincidentally, got my fourth Moon Armor.  Now that I have all the equipment I was after, the only thing left to do is to max out people's stats.

Since I've been working on that all along, there really isn't much left.  Frog and Ayla need to get up to 99 Magic, and once I reach that point I'll have enough Power Tabs as a byproduct of beating Spekkio over and over (reward: 10 of each tab and 10 MegaElixirs) that I can uselessly max out Marle and Lucca's Power.  Since everyone else maxes Power through levelling up, I've just been using Power Tabs on Marle and Lucca the entire time thus far.

Once I'm done, I think I'll skip Radical Dreamers entirely and move straight to Chrono Cross.  Unlike with Chrono Trigger, I've never actually beaten Chrono Cross.  I've never even gotten to the second disc.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Making Highway Driving Less Boring

I don't normally read what I brand as "shitty Gawker Network blogs", but Jalopnik (and Deadspin, for what it's worth) usually have good content while the rest sucks.  Among what I read was this article, suggesting ten ways to make highway driving less boring.  Because I'm opinionated, and I do highway driving a few times a year, I feel like critiquing their suggestions as well as providing my own.

Their suggestions:
  1. Add more turns
    This sounds simple, but it really isn't.  Most highways are straight roads with very few curves to navigate, and very little room to work with for any kind of modification to add turns (think forest protection rules, even before residential or commercial development).  I do agree, however, that having to steer more often keeps the driver engaged and thus wards off driving fatigue.  When there's an alternative road that's more engaging to drive on, take it.  However, if you're in an area you don't know and didn't do your research beforehand, you probably won't know about the alternatives.
  2. Lose the speed traps
    This reeks of "I'm crying because I spent too much money on a sports car and I still have to go the speed limit".  The law is the law.  Good luck getting it changed because you don't care about safety.  Also, do you really want to unleash a zero-enforcement situation on America's shitty drivers who think they're seasoned race car drivers but really aren't?  Actually, that might be a good thing, they'll all kill themselves in fiery car wrecks within a month and then we can go back to enforcing the law.
  3. Get rid of speed limits
    This reeks of "I'm crying because I spent too much money on a sports car and I still have to go the speed limit".  The law is the law.  Wait, this is looking like the previous critique.  Uh...  I'll just stop here and go to the next suggestion.
  4. Get rid of cutting in
    I've been a fan of enacting some kind of physical barrier on solid lane lines for quite some time now.  Also, having driven in Washington, D.C., which has some of the world's worst drivers (next to the Russians), I know for a fact that people up there will just lane change on you without warning or the requisite space to do so.  Also, for someone who comes from out of the area, road signage is decidedly lacking.
  5. Buy a Bentley Speed
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHANO.  Overpriced car is overpriced.  You've got to be joking with this one, right?  RIGHT?  Well, this is a "car guy", fuck safety, fuck practicality, performance above all else blog we're reading here, so sadly the author most likely isn't joking.
  6. Get good food along the road
    Better restaurants near highway off-ramps mean more opportunities to stop and break up the monotony (and use the bathroom).  I get it.  However, a "better restaurant" also usually carries a higher price tag than your standard fare of off-ramp restaurants, and typically have longer service times.  I'll stick to off-ramp fast food, kthx.
  7. Start semi-autonomous road trains
    Wait, what?  They've got to be joking here.  I can't take this suggestion seriously.  Sorry, I can't.  Besides, I've drafted off of a semi before, it was honestly a rather annoying experience passing it only to be passed again and have the whole process repeat until I slowed down and got some distance between us.
  8. Introduce completely self-driving cars
    And turn the future into eX-Driver.  No thanks.
  9. Fix the worst road designs
    Sounds good on paper, but takes tons of (taxpayer) money in practice, and means even worse road designs while the newer road designs are in construction.  Instead, let's introduce proper signage and education of drivers on how to obey traffic laws and not be dicks to other drivers, which comparatively would cost a lot less and make everything safer.
  10. Punish the left lane hogs
    Wait, what?  You come from la-la land, good sir.  Back here in reality, the speed limit is the same for all lanes of travel.  There is no such thing as "the fast lane".  Multi-lane highways exist to increase the number of cars that can travel their length in the same amount of time (I often use a computer network bandwidth analogy to explain this), not so that there can be one lane for normal people and another for douchebags.
Now, my own suggestions, from years of experience rather than the pipe dreams from the author of the article:
  1. Bring music
    Having something to drown out road noise means less driving fatigue.  Simple as that.  Just don't turn it up too loud, because you still need to be aware of your surroundings, and being able to hear the traffic around you is part of that.
  2. Bring a friend or two
    Having one or more passengers means you can carry on a conversation, keeping you from suffering from driving fatigue.  If it's just you, talk to yourself.  I'm not even kidding.  Make some imaginary friends and carry on a conversation with them.  Still not joking.
  3. Bring caffeine
    Caffeine is an easy way around driving fatigue.  Grab a six-pack of something caffeinated at the grocery store before setting off on your journey, and consume one if you start to feel driving fatigue set in.  The downside: you'll need to get lucky and find a damn rest stop (which in some parts of America are getting rare), or go to an off-ramp establishment and use their restrooms.
  4. Have passengers assist with lane changes and directions
    Because you, the driver, need to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel.  Passengers don't have these duties, and are more free to survey the surroundings of your car when you want to make a lane change.  Plus, having an extra set of eyes that can look around will in effect eliminate your blind spots.  As far as directions go, most people these days sadly use GPS and ignore road signage entirely, but there are some of us out there that prefer to use road signage and even print out directions from websites like Google Maps.  Just make sure to do a sanity check on those Google Maps directions. (note that it took two years for the directions in my example to be fixed!)
  5. Get out and stretch
    Yeah, your car is moving along at 60+ MPH (in most locations at least), but you're sitting still for a long period of time, which contributes to driving fatigue.  Take an off-ramp sometime, find a parking lot, and get out and walk around for a bit.  You'll be surprised at how much a short five-minute walk will help your alertness on a long journey.  You can combo this together with stopping at a rest stop or getting some food, as well.
  6. Change drivers
    This isn't just something for endurance races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it's completely useful for extremely long highway journeys.  Being able to swap positions with one of your passengers essentially means a new lease on driver awareness, and is a really good way to get around driving fatigue.  My parents did this when we drove from Charlottesville, VA to Indianapolis, IN when the US Formula 1 Grand Prix was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  We also typically got a hotel room somewhere on the way back, at about 10 PM when everyone was tired.
I don't really have a 7 through 10.  Deal with it.  Also, notice how my suggestions are themed around reducing and/or eliminating driving fatigue and encouraging safe and friendly driving, and Jalopnik's are themed around being a douchebag.  Just sayin'.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

This Is Bullshit

So a few days ago I bought a DVD of Space Jam.  When it arrived I noticed that it was a single disc in the box that said "Disc 1" on it, basically meaning that at some point in time there was a multi-disc special edition and they're just being lazy with the single disc edition.

I don't really care about special features that much, so that's not the focus of this post.

The focus of this post is the autorun shenanigans present on the DVD.

Now, I'm no idiot.  I know that the big film studios do shit like this to fuck over unknowing computer users and punish them for making an honest purchase.  Whenever I put any commercial DVD or CD in my DVD drive, I hold Shift while putting it in, which in Windows at least prevents autorun from happening.  I'm rather relieved to say that the vast majority of my DVD collection is untainted by autorun shenanigans, yet at the same time I still hold Shift when putting anything into my DVD drive.

Space Jam on the other hand has a bundled player, called the InterActual Player.  Excuse me, what?  First off, I don't know what InterActual Player is, so therefore I don't trust it.  A quick Google search turns up all kinds of juicy tidbits about how the company that makes it disrespects your privacy and tracks everything you've ever played in it.  It claims to offer some sort of "interactive features" to "supplement" the DVD-watching process while you watch it.  I don't care really, I'm just here for the movie.

The important thing to note is that an autorun program can do whatever it wants to your computer, even before displaying any kind of user interface or installer or whatnot.  It's very possible for these things to fuck up the driver for your DVD drive and prevent you from using its full range of features, which these days most definitely includes writing to writable media.  Uninstalling the player gives no guarantee of it un-fucking your DVD driver, and thus you're left with a less-than-functional DVD drive just because you had the gall to legally purchase a movie on DVD.

You'd think with the MPAA getting their panties in a bunch about the internet and trying to DRM the internet away, that they'd realize all they're doing is punishing legitimate consumers.  People who intend to pirate movies can very easily get around these token methods of DRM.  After all, these things have to play back on DVD players, right?  Well, yes.  Yes they do.  Therefore, the content has to be accessible without it, and the program they're installing is just to try and fuck with your computer.  Also, as I mentioned above, bypassing the autorun in Windows is retardedly simple.  From there, you can enlist the help of a DVD-ripping program to strip out the nasties and leave you with only what you want: the movie you legally purchased.

Also, you know what else is bullshit?  I started up Space Jam in Media Player Classic Homecinema, and it takes 35 seconds to play this stupid animation flying through space before it finally gets to the main menu with a static image of Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan.  Attempting to navigate to the menu just restarts the animation.  Just show me the main menu, bitch.