Murf versus #Blaugust: Round II

Last August, I spent the entire month writing every day to participate in a new blogging holiday invented by Belghast over at Tales of the Aggronaut. It was a fun event, even if that style of writing doesn’t always mesh with my own. For the most part, the articles I published that month were written in a few bursts of writing, rather than per day, though I did take time each day to do some light editing.

Next month, Blaugust returns and I am participating once again. My aim is to work my way through a backlog of half-written or never published drafts. Things may get a bit meta when I discuss why I didn’t publish a post while publishing it, but we will see. Given this past month’s troubles, many of my drafts have seen the light of day, so the backlog wasn’t what it once was when I had originally planned to join this year’s Blaugust extravaganza. In all likelihood, I will need to write more.

I am also hoping to add some short videos. I have been chasing a few trophies in The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth as The Lost character. If you are unfamiliar, the game is one of those roguelikes where levels are randomized and dying means game over. The Lost ups the ante a bit by being a one-hit-death character. Normally, you could pick up health upgrades, but they don’t work on The Lost. I figured it’d be fun to run 31 attempts at these achievements and share the results with each Blaugust post in the form of the run itself (I don’t usually last more than 15 minutes).

It’s a really fun event, whether you really want to write or not. I found that challenge of posting everyday to be equally on par with posting quality content, and finding a few opportunities to do both made me feel all the better. Quality isn’t king with this event, however; sticking to the schedule reigns supreme. I recommend it for anyone, whether you have found your writing confidence or not, because it is great practice and a great excuse to push out some experimental posts.

To participate, Belghast has published a few guidelines on his announcement post:

    1. Write a new blog post of no less than ten sentences in length. This is essentially two large paragraphs and is a good solid minimum size. If you are doing a screenshot/photo blog just make sure your description explaining what the image is all about fits this constraint.
    2. Include a link back to the 2015 Blaugust Initiative Page. My hope is that this will allow other people to join in the challenge and play catch up.
    3. Advertise the post on the Blaugust Nook. When you join the nook I will be elevating everyone to “Blogger” access to do this. This is extremely key this year, because this is going to be how I log all posts, and if you do not do this you are not going to get proper credit.
    4. Either in the title of your post or the first heading inside of your actual post.. please denote which day this post is for. Something like “Blaugust Day 21” just to make sure that I am giving everyone credit for the correct day, and this should help to stop the oddities of folks in vastly different time zones getting dumped into the wrong slot.
    5. If you advertise the post on social media, please include the #Blaugust hashtag. Again we are trying to help spread the word and get folks to join in process… and at very least get folks reading the posts.
    6. Over the course of the month, write 31 posts.
    7. ????
    8. Profit!

If you need examples, here’s all 31 posts I did for the first ever Blaugust. You could review each one if you really have nothing else to write about:

Playstation Not Now (But Maybe Later)

I never owned a Playstation 3. I barely remember owning a Playstation 2. For either system, there are a ton of highly acclaimed titles that I missed and have long intended to play. Playstation Now is a service on Playstation platforms which went live last year. Either by renting or subscribing, Now grants access to more than 100 titles (with maybe 10 you will want to play) through the power of online streaming. I recently tested out the service by playing and beating both God of War HD and God of War 2 HD.

The service works. I managed to beat both games without pulling my hair out first. It wasn’t perfect though, not by a long shot. At first, I tried using the wireless internet, and, after turning everything else off, it worked. While my roommates were away, I managed to play almost flawless God of War HD over the internet without any wires involved.

2015-06-20 20.57.57

Of course, as soon as someone got home, it was a mad rush to find a save and quit playing. One of my biggest issues with Playstation Now is how it kicks you off. I understand why it would if you go idle and stop playing for a long period, but after a certain amount of time with a choppy connection (sometimes it was still playable, just incredibly ugly), it gives you 20 seconds before it turns the game off for you. This proved to be incredibly annoying in a few spots, as I hadn’t saved and Playstation Now cannot save a game state to pick up later once you reconnect.

I decided to buy a long enough ethernet cord to connect my Playstation 4 in the bedroom to the router in the computer room. With a whole lot of luck, I even managed to hide the cable so well that you can’t see it, so now my PS4 is permanently tethered to a more stable online connection.

With the new cable, things were a lot steadier and a lot prettier. By the time I got the cable, I was almost completely through with God of War 1, so most of the benefits I noticed came from God of War 2, which seemed to be noticeably more attractive than the original. There was little to no lag, and other than a few drops once someone’s laptop started soaking up bandwidth, my connection woes were gone.

I did have one issue where a cutscene failed to load. It was strange because the screen was completely black, but I could still pause and view that screen without issue. It forced me to restart, but never happened again.

I am not exactly impressed with Playstation Now, but it did the bare minimum of my expectations reasonably well. It’s a shame that you cannot stream or take screenshots of Playstation Now titles. I would have loved capturing a few moments of God of War for the blog. It doesn’t help that just before I started a subscription to Playstation Now, Microsoft announced backward compatibility on their Xbox One with Xbox 360 games, and said they would include the newer features of the Xbox One. With the exception of Halo, Playstation Now’s library is far too strong to ignore if you haven’t played the few Sony exclusives that are available on it, so having access to these games without bonus features beats having no access at all. Those games are too few and there is too little else I’d ever want to play though.

If you are interested in playing God of War, Shadow of the Colossus, or the ugly duckling of the Final Fantasy series, then give Playstation Now a shot. It isn’t terrible!

Turning the last page on a hot, summer afternoon.

Many an hour was spent watching terrible television together in these two seats.
Many an hour was spent watching terrible television together in these two seats.

In September 2013, I was living far away from home in Illinois when I got the call. My mother had lung cancer, stage four; she told me herself. She also told me that everything would be okay, to live my life, to not worry about her. As a sudden typhoon began throwing itself against the embankments of my mind, I briefly resisted their might until the call ended, and all hell broke loose.

It didn’t take me more than a week to get back home, everything I owned stacked, packed, and wedged into the back of a small truck I had at the time. My mother needed me, my father needed me, my family needed me – most of all, I needed my mom.

Mom and I have always been close. In a letter I wrote to her in 2009, on the first anniversary of my brother’s death, I admitted plainly that I considered her my best friend. Growing up, I was blessed with a loving family, but life was still chaotic. My father was (and remains) an alcoholic. My brother fought addiction and mental illness up until the combination of the two killed him. Mom and I had to do our best to remain loving, but not grow bitter, to be present but not at the expense of ourselves. I am reminded of the classic “Believe in me who believes in you” line from Gurren Lagann: there was no origin point of strength, it merely manifested through mutual faith and hope.

For the past year and a half, I was beside her, comforting her, and looking after her as every strength she ever had slowly eroded away. My mother was a short, plump woman all my life, but she died frail and small. She had a mind like a steel trap, but that trap loosened as the days went on, never losing its sharpness, but finding it harder to keep anything pinned down.

Worst of all, her superpower has always been her fierce independence and determination, and as her legs could no longer carry her or her breath had shortened, so too had her powers waned. She fought it as hard as she could, but natural forces tend to win over human ones.

It didn’t really occur to me that my mother would die until a few weeks ago when what was already bad turned far worse. For nearly the past two years, we’ve gotten through a number of bad times to reach new, terrible but workable, normals. She did every single thing she could to prepare me and anyone else in the family who would listen to take over her legacy. She had been the center of the entire family’s business and the person entirely in charge of our household. Her absence would be felt by all, in both fathomable and unfathomable ways. I thought her will was stronger than her body, and, perhaps it was, but all things that rise must come back down again.

The cancer had spread, her pain had gotten worse, and for the first time in my life, she didn’t answer when I called. I would call her every day or every few days. We’d catch up or just exchange “I love you”‘s. This was a regular occurrence ever since I moved out for the first time in late 2006. On this particular day, my cousin answered instead and told me that Mom couldn’t come to the phone, even for a brief moment.

Every bit of strength I had reserved for the inevitable, whether I truly believed it would come or not, fled in an instant and I reverted back to a young, scared, and lost child. My mother was leaving me and I would not be able to follow.

Last Thursday, her reserve of strength, as bottomless as it was, reached its end. She died comfortably in her sleep, too medicated to feel the ills that had befallen her. Last Saturday, we buried her.

And despite the great hole, I remain calm while gazing upon its immensity. In many ways, it isn’t a hole at all, but a reminder that, for as strong and smart and devoted and loving as she was, I am those things too. Her disappearance from our lives will lead to many, many questions. It may mean in-fighting and gossip-mongering as whatever authority she had completely falls away, and a family, torn by loss over the last two decades, finally shreds the last string keeping it held together. It may mean something else entirely.

All I can do is remain strong like her or calm like her or hopeful like her, because I am like her. She didn’t leave this world entirely. I am her legacy and I will carry that power until I die.

I love you, Mom, and, exactly as you told me to do, I will listen you this one time without complaint or argument, and agree to live my life. Its a continuation of your’s too, so how could I not?

My mother would be mad at having her picture here and, truthfully, I was annoyed my cousin took this one, but this was the last time I saw her.
My mother would be mad at having her picture here and, truthfully, I was annoyed my cousin took this one, but this was the last time I saw her.

Murf Versus: Heroes of the Storm

Back in March, I sat down and played Heroes of the Storm for the first time. When I was done, I walked away unhappy and dismissive of the game. After giving it a second look and reviewing my own words again, I realize now that I was mostly wrong about Blizzard’s MOBA. HOTS is a fun and engaging experience, and that is all that matters.

Let me start with the negative and work my way to the positive. Heroes of the Storm is a Free-to-Play game, but I don’t find it any more generous than League of Legends and it certainly no where near as giving as Valve’s DOTA 2. Heroes of the Storm feels fully and completely like a product intended to gather money from me anyway it can, and it falls in line behind Hearthstone perfectly.

A few of you will balk at reading any further, but I remain committed to the idea that a game should feel like a game before it feels like it is begging me for pocket change. If I could afford anything in Heroes with pocket change, then it might be okay, but heroes, skins, and mounts all remain expensive. Yes, they compare favorably in cost to the competition, but I find it funny that Blizzard drew the line of making a more accessible and gamer-friendly MOBA exactly where the game’s cash shop begins.

Heroes of the Storm also doesn’t fix my biggest problem with MOBA’s, their community, but that’s a tall order for any one game. It is an especially tall order for Blizzard, who has done little to clean up World of Warcraft’s community, so this is an unfair thing to ask of them.

Finally, I still hate the name Heroes of the Storm and I still prefer Blizzard All-Stars.

While the prohibitive and annoying costs of the cash shop will likely kill my long-term interest in the game like they did Hearthstone, those are pretty much three non-issues for the game. Sure, I could argue that some of the heroes are a little too plain or how I wished for slightly more customization, but let me say this as plainly as possible without nitpicking too much further:

I like Heroes of the Storm.

For the past few weeks, I have been playing a game or two every day. Since I am taking a break from Final Fantasy XIV and the beta for Rocket League is over, I’ve had a daily hole to fill. As much as we all argue over genres and what category a game is, I believe there are only two ways to categorize games. Either is a ‘let me beat this and be done with it’ experience or it is an ‘everyday play’. Heroes of the Storm is most certainly in the latter category.

My opinion began changing when I realized how much fun it is to not be stuck on Summoner’s Rift for the millionth time. That was initially my opinion too, but after more games, I began seeing the underlying strategy of each map, and started to enjoy how every team fight felt more distinct from the next. For as long as I played support in League, I must’ve placed a ton of wards. I am so grateful to be less worried about that and more interested in the actual objectives at hand, how to achieve them, and how to keep my opponent from being successful.
In the grand scheme of things, Heroes does tip more toward the Player versus Environment side of the scale than the other two major competitors. Part of my problem during beta were how so many people still obsessed over kills. I still get those types, but, more than ever, I get those who realize that objectives are the key to success on every map. As much as I enjoy a good team fight, I’ll trade the boring laning phase for the potential to have a team fight at any time, if it means I have to mostly fight brain-dead NPCs for the rest of a match.

I also found Heroes that I enjoyed, or found myself doing okay in roles that I never excelled at elsewhere. Though supporting has always been in my gaming DNA, I didn’t take on that role because I wanted to, but because that was what I learned to play as my more knowledgeable friend carried me to victory. In HOTS, individual roles aren’t nearly as important, though heroes do get a ton of flavor from what they are meant to do. Because of this, I feel comfortable trying new roles and not expecting to be called out for not initiating at the right time, jungling poorly, or not ganking at the right time.

Heroes of the Storm may or may not be the best MOBA ever. Debating about that issue will likely never cease, but I feel it misses the point entirely. At the end of the day, we must ask ourselves if Heroes of the Storm is a good game. Whether the absence of last hitting entirely changes the skill dynamic for the worst is a question that, frankly, most gamers do not give a shit about. Is Heroes of the Storm fun? Is it a MOBA you can play with anyone and expect to have a fun time?

Yes and yes.

Burn Pile: Final Fantasy Type-Zero

Final Fantasy Type-0 was originally a Playstation Portable game that was remastered and released again on the Playstation 4 earlier this year. I was so turned away by the game’s battle system and early goings that I immediately gave up on it.

A bit of a waste, no doubt, but I only preordered Type-0 for two reasons: I had store credit at Toys-R-Us from a customer service issue that was about to expire, and I really wanted that Final Fantasy XIV demo.

This wouldn’t be the first time I bought a game more for the demo included than the game itself. Square used to be the masterminds behind this sort of thing when I was younger. I remember buying Brave Fencer Musashi, rushing home, and ripping that annoying plastic off its case just to get to the Final Fantasy VIII demo. The demo blew my mind, and Musashi proved to be a serviceable game though I never finished it.

I think another factor was the Final Fantasy name. That may seem obvious to many of you, after all, branding matters, but Final Fantasy games have really been a turn-off for me lately. Ever since Square Enix gave up trying to do anything other than make a really pretty game, I felt like the series has turned its back on fans like me. If it weren’t go games like Bravely Default or Final Fantasy XIV, my interest in any games bearing that name or related to it in some way would go the way of Medal of Honor, and be buried in a past where I played that sort of thing and it was good.

Type-0 commits a few basic sins really early on, and those, when combined with my broader disinterest in the game and my waning loyalty to the brand, were enough for me:

The combat is weird. Given, I barely played long enough to experience its full weight, but I was immediately turned off by the combat. I don’t mind a more action-oriented RPG, but Type-0 tries to straddle both sides and turned me off entirely in the process.

The introduction is poorly written, though kind of cool. The story has a World War I vibe to it, as all the major nations of the world find themselves at odds after one particularly industrious nation invades another. I liked that. Yet, then the game immediately goes off the deep end and gives me term after term that I have zero context for.

In general, this is a big problem for me in any medium. As a lifelong Science Fiction and Fantasy lover, you would think I would be used to this by now, but it has become a pet peeve for me. I just think it is incredibly lazy storytelling to front load your first impression with a ton of made-up terms that no one would understand without playing the game/reading the book further.

My litmus test for whether or not I will read a new book is I read the first page or two and count these words. One or two, and depending on the rest, I am usually done.

They killed a chocobo. Given, this does a great job of setting up the war-torn nation feel, but 15 minutes of me watching some kid I don’t know and his chocobo I don’t know (but desperately want to ride) die is one thing. Following it up with chosen one, super trained teenagers kicking ass immediately returns me to ‘this is a silly Final Fantasy game’.

With that said, another game enters the pile.