Monday, July 17, 2017

The How of Happiness Review

NOTE: I've decided to make this post my permanent featured post, as one of the most important things is happiness.

Lyubomirsky's The How of Happiness summarizes the latest scientific research into the field of Happiness Studies and how most of us can obtain happiness. It doesn't promise that everyone can be happy, as she notes, responsibly, that if your basic needs aren't met and your life is threatened and/or in an abusive situation, it's not likely that you'll achieve happiness--though there are rare people that despite their awful situations, are nevertheless happy. But that's not likely the case for most of us. It's interesting as the field of Happiness Studies, in effect, has shown that the primary goal of all societies SHOULD be eradicating poverty and violence, so that we can then move to the goal of being happy.

Further, Dr. Lyubomirsky also notes that if you're clinically depressed, and she includes a short depression scale to see if you may be depressed, to see a psychiatrist as she responsibly notes that you can't go from being depressed to being happy and fulfilled. It's like having a leg fracture, but then expecting to run a marathon. As for preparation before seeing a psychiatrist, she has an excellent section at the end of the book that describes the various antidepressants, and what to expect, so as to make your visit to the psychiatrist not scary and daunting. It's an impressive section, as I was wondering, did she read and master Stahl's Essential Psychopharmacology: Neuroscientific Basis and Applications? She's not advocating the b.s. that "everyone can be happy".

However, for most of us who do have our basic needs and safety met, and don't fall under the clinically depressed range, we can be happy, rather than merely living a daily grind.  She also spends part of the book going into the empirical research that shows that as long as we fit that criteria, we can be happy. The other extremely interesting thing about a lot of these happiness exercises, is that they're free or inexpensive, and some aren't time-consuming, so it's doable for us.

In other words, they are practical to implement, and not out of reach for most of us. For instance, I've literally read some self-help books that say, "write a best-seller" as the royalties will help financially (yes, we can all be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King), or travel to enjoy new, interesting experiences, as if we all have thousands of dollars to blow on exotic travels.

After discussing the above caveats, the author then outlines steps, as well as pitfalls that we may face during this journey in achieving happiness. She writes in a very clear, easy to read, and interesting manner. Martin Seligman, M.D., considered one of the fathers of the field of Happiness Studies, often refers to her work, I think because of her very clear and engaging writing style.

A lot of self-help books don't address the pitfalls, so this book is remarkable in that she adds a lot of trouble-shooting and other examples to follow if the recommendations don't seem to be helpful to you. Here are some of the pitfalls she addresses:

The first pitfall is the cynicism, as the 12 categories you can do to be happy will make most of us snicker and cringe, such as "expressing gratitude", "random acts of kindness", "nurturing relationships" and other platitudes. However, the author goes into the scientific research into why these activities increase happiness, and different ways of implementing these exercises that they no longer sound cheesy, but rather uplifting and refreshing. I found the exercise in gratitude especially compelling (that is, to me, as everyone is different) because reading my journal of appreciation, I was in tears with the realization of how fortunate I am.

The second pitfall is that there's sure to be very perfectionist/OCD people out there who will do every activity to the exact letter, thereby burning out, or if not able to implement every single step, to feel depressed and a failure. The author does a superb job in explaining the importance of choosing activities that you actually enjoy and have time to do, and to avoid doing those exercises in a duty/chore/routine manner that will fuel resentment. The goal is to be happy, after all, and not feel defeated.

I think this is one of the strengths of the book, for us to find the exercises that we enjoy and create our own ways to be happy that's individualized, rather than following a program like a robot. So, if you cringe at expressing gratitude, there are other activities that you can chose, and they're quite varied, so all personality types will find something we'll enjoy.

Lyubomirsky also includes questionnaires to help you hone in on what activities you'll most likely enjoy, and based on your likes, she cross-references other categories that you can pursue. Some of these exercises don't even take time for those who are extremely busy, such as being present in the moment, even while working. 

In other words, she gives out practical, doable activities that anyone can accomplish, most of them free activities and/or not taking up time if we're strapped for time and resources.

The third pitfall is how to continue to motivate yourself as we tend to go back to our normal routine and old habits, as it does take effort to implement and be creative. Again, Lyubomirsky describes steps to help motivate yourself to get back on track, and most importantly, to be kind to yourself if you "slide".

The book was especially helpful to me in outlining the scientific studies showing that these categories do in fact lead to happiness. I also appreciate the book addressing the myths we have that make us happy, which actually don't lead to happiness in the long-run, so you can avoid these myths, and pursue the activities that truly do lead to happiness, per scientific data. You can be assured that you're not "wasting your time" doing these enriching, scientifically-backed, activities, and avoid the myths that will just waste your time, money and efforts.

I will point out a couple of examples, as it's beyond the scope of the review to outline all the myths, and the scientifically-backed happiness activities. I remember being very happy when I got my first ever iPhone, which was the 6 Plus. I took such good care of it and admired it at first.  But after a few weeks (or even less?), I'm like "whatever".  Fast forward 2 years later, I actually drop the iPhone with a blase attitude, and I've seen my coworkers also dropping their expensive, even new smart phones, also with a whatever attitude: not one coworker "gasped" when they dropped their phones. So indeed, one such myth that will make you happy is achieving wealth and material possessions beyond the basic necessities, as getting the coolest thing is very short-lived and un-sustaining. If you forgo the materialism, it's a true win-win situation: you save money and you can do something else that's more fulfilling.

However, it "never gets old" being with my friends, even while doing boring chores together, and it's always fun and joyful petting and playing with my cats, so the mantra of "nurturing relationships" really is a happiness activity, and is actually fun, basically free and practical to do.

Rating: A+.  I would recommend going to your local bookstore and/or library to check out the book first, take notes if you find anything helpful, and to get a copy if and only if you find the book useful.

Attractive Dark Souls 3 Characters

Domino, Ashen One, Dark Souls 3
The hardest thing about Dark Souls 3 is creating attractive characters. Here are the sliders for my male and female characters. If the category isn't listed, then it's the default one.

Unfortunately, when I attempted to make the character look less "pasty", it appeared to mess up with the other appearance categories, so I didn't change the skin tone. Fortunately, though, they don't appear pasty in-game.

The first one is my male character, named after my cat, Domino.

Age: Young
Build Detail:  128/128/128/128/128
Base Skin Color:  155/140/130
Skin Color:  243/221/115/77/101/106/132/160

FACE DETAIL
  • Features:  50/100/10 
  • Face Shape 
    • Facial Balance:  116/1/130/243/68/73
    • Forehead/Glabella:  188/228/199/158/69/93
    • Brow Ridge:  57/27/101
    • Eyes:  180/215/188/124
    • Nose Ridge:  138/193/105/42/119/80/181 
    • Nostrils:  186/96/154/94
    • Cheeks:  142/153/161/146/84
    • Lips:  198/74/129/0/215/90
    • Mouth:  205/130/97/214/144/200
    • Chin:  70/96/69/69/222/150/170 
    • Jaw:  153/161/72/207 
  •  Hair/Facial Hair
    • Hair/Brow/Beard:  0/0/0
    • Hair:  1st row, 2nd column.
    • Hair Color:  0/0/0
    • Brow:  4th row, 3rd column 
    • Brow Color:  0/0/0
    • Beard:  1st row, 2nd column 
    • Beard Color:  0/0/0
    • Eyelashes:  1st row, 2nd column
    • Eyelash color:  0/0/0
  • Pupils
    • Pupils: 1st row, 1st column
    • Color of Pupils:  53/38/17
  • Cosmetics
    • 153/116/100/140/80/80/117/137
N.C., Esq. At Your Service
This second one is my female character, named after my cat, Niki, and is the pretentious, self-important, full of herself, aggressive persona and "guest writer", N.C., Esq.  
  
Age: Young
Build Detail:  95/60/0/40/55
Base Skin Color:  145/130/120
Skin Color:  160/130/140/140/125/115/135/130

FACE DETAIL
  • Features:  20/135/0 
  • Face Shape:
    • Facial Balance:  130/130/130/150/230/120
    • Forehead/Glabella:  150/210/80/130/20/135
    • Brow Ridge:  255/135/130
    • Eyes:  50/160/155/92
    • Nose Ridge:  150/90/95/100/160/150/140
    • Nostrils:  135/115/95/25
    • Cheeks:  95/160/130/145/155
    • Lips:  255/135/73/0/255/120
    • Mouth:  190/255/185/80/75/135
    • Chin:  180/170/130/130/130/160/110
    • Jaw:  200/90/50/110
  • Hair/Facial Hair
    • Hair/Brow/Beard:  220/85/52
    • Hair:  4th row, 1st column
    • Hair Color:  220/85/52
    • Brow:  4th row, 3rd column
    • Brow Color:  255/85/52
    • Eye lashes: 2nd row, 1st column
    • Eyelash color:  0/0/0
  • Pupils
    • Pupils:  1st row, 3rd column
    • Color of Pupils:  80/100/180
    • Cosmetics:  130/115/100/180/40/50/165/120
I'm a feminist and against looks-ism, but in video games, we want to enjoy fantasy so female and male eye candy is a must. At any rate, are these characters hot or not, and please feel free to share your own favorite characters!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Monday Musings 2

My Wall Street Journal Experience
From my understanding, the Wall Street Journal is a newspaper, so it should report on the news in as objective manner as possible, like other newspapers. Yes, Wall Street is predominantly in the title, so I expected the emphasis on finances. I was thinking that their business section would be way more in-depth than other newspapers, and then the main news, sports, arts section would be as is per other newspapers. At any rate, I decided to subscribe to it as it was extremely cheap at the time at only $25/year for new subscribers, if my memory serves me correctly, so why not? It's a rather nice experience to drink coffee and read the newspaper in the morning.

Unfortunately, this was during the time of the Bernie Madoff scandal, so every single article was about him for weeks and weeks on end. After the second week, I was so sick of reading yet another article describing how a Ponzi Scheme works. I mean, enough already, he swindled very rich, distinguished people and organizations, let's move on! It has gotten to the point that there's a mention of Madoff even in sections where this topic is irrelevant (i.e. Sports section). If they didn't mention Madoff in the Arts or Sports sections, there's mention of money in some round-about, irrelevant way.

When I cancelled the subscription, the nice customer representative asked why since I already paid for the year, and I answered, "I just can't take reading another article about Bernie Madoff". She laughed knowing that it reached such a ridiculous level. Again, this newspaper has the words Wall Street in it, but the emphasis on money, money and money was extremely amusing to me, no matter what the topic, as mentioned above. To say they have a money fetish is quite an understatement. If I were their food journalist and wrote a recipe like this, I'd get an immediate raise, promotion, and a larger office with a magnificent view.

International Award-Winning Chocolate Chip Recipe Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar 
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 (12-ounce) bag semisweet chocolate chips, or chunks
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp fine salt

Evenly position 2 racks in the middle of the oven, and preheat at 375 degrees. Next, the global chocolate market is expected to grow from $83.2 billion in 2010 to $98.3 billion in 2016 at an estimated CAGR of 2.7% from 2011 to 2016. 

Rating: D- to F.  Recommended as long as there's NO major financial scandal and you can get a subscription at the low price of $25/year or, ideally, less. Otherwise, NOT recommended.

Dark Souls 3 Progress and Wishes
I made Platinum, which is considerably easier than my new goal of memorizing the maps and all item placements! I wanted to do this as I'm sick of scrambling about not knowing where I was going, and getting killed. I felt that if I knew exactly where to go, I can then "stop and smell the roses" and truly enjoy the amazing scenery.

So, going through the game in more depth, I keep thinking over and over again, how there needs to be an Orange Charred Ring, a ring that allows you to cross the lava in the Smouldering Lake area, without getting burnt to a crisp, so you can get the items there. As it stands, you need to be rather high health with all flame-resistant equipment, and then chug estus after estus, get the item, and then die if you can't make it back. I recall that in Dark Souls 1, you still lose health, but you can make it through as long as you chug estus once in awhile with flame-resistant gear.  At any rate, I think it would make sense to be rewarded with this ring as a guaranteed drop after defeating the Smouldering Lake boss, Old Demon King.

Likewise, why can't Dark Souls 3 have the equivalent of the Dark Souls 1 Rusted Iron Ring, where you can go through deep waters/mud without being so terribly slowed down? I don't know if the thinking is that it'll make the Farron swamp, Crucifixion woods and other areas "too easy", which is nonsense, since you have to give up a ring slot to wear this ring, so it's a fair trade-off. Perhaps you get the Rusted Iron Ring after defeating the Abyss Watchers in the Farron area, if they really want you to slog through the swamp before getting the ring. I'm sure if From felt that there are "lore considerations", they can make stuff up to include these 2 rings in the game.

If this goes against past lore, then maybe make up consumables or spells that give you lava resist, or motion enhancement, so you can make up new lore that will fit the world.

Dark Souls 3 Tips for the Elder Ghru and Great Crab
I noticed that the Elder Ghrus that I complained about can all be sniped to death by using the environment as cover. The first Elder Ghrus you encounter, you can run up the bridge that you snuff out the candle, and run past the arch. 

So if you find one chasing you, run to that bridge and go slightly past the arch. Then shoot with arrows. They really stand there trying to get at you, but not advancing, stuck in the arch.
Elder Ghru

As for the 3 clumped together Elder Ghrus that give you the Pharis items, you can also snipe. Go to the 2nd bonfire (Keep Ruins) and head to the section where the three poison-spewing enemies are. Facing the bonfire, the Ghrus are grouped together on your left. They are hard to see, but they are there.

Snipe one Ghru, and as he's approaching, hide behind the wall of rocks that is closest to the swamp (NOT the wall of rocks that is closer to the bonfire as the magic splashes onto you). The Ghru will approach so you can keep shooting at him, and hide behind that wall for cover. Once hidden, he will return back to his area. I prefer shooting b/c it's very safe (albeit takes patience), but if you're bold enough, you can do a plunge attack to kill him faster. Rinse and repeat until dead.
Great Crab

As for the lone great crab in the corner section of the Farron Swamp (where all those items are clustered), I never realized this as I never placed myself in the correct spot. If you head towards the only visually evident thin white birch tree, and hold up your shield (preferably with 100% physical block), the Giant Hawkeye Gough whom you made friends with back in the Undead Settlement, will shoot the crab for you. I would just keep blocking, but if you want to save time, when the Giant's arrow stuns the crab, you can get a couple swipes in. But the reality is, his arrows are so deadly and true, he can kill the crab for you. I'm still in process of memorizing the areas and all items, so I'll probably come up with more tips during this journey.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Why I Don't Find the Nintendo Switch Compelling

I was admittedly upset when I found out that Nintendo was going to develop the new Nintendo Switch, which means they won't support the Wii U going forward, given their past history of dropping support quickly in favor of the new console. At the same time, I understand that Nintendo was losing money on the Wii U, so I really couldn't blame them. I just had that bitter taste in my mouth finding out, because I absolutely loved my Wii U the most out of all the consoles, early in this console generation. My favorite now is the PS4.

I don't know how I stumbled upon articles about Conflict Minerals and their use in electronic components, but I did. So curious, I wanted to see where Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony obtain their sources. I was upset to see that Nintendo uses conflict minerals, but not Microsoft or Sony. Even so, I felt that Nintendo may move to Microsoft's and Sony's position in the future, but this news made the upcoming console even less appealing.

I then found out that Nintendo will take down anyone's Nintendo videos if you're not a member of their White List program. Once approved, you're prohibited from displaying non-Nintendo content. Not only that, you can't just show any Nintendo game, it must be a game that is on their approved White List, otherwise they can ban your channel. No other game developer in the world demands this, as they smartly realize that by allowing people to stream their games without restriction or penalty, they get free advertising worth millions.

They have also sent cease and desist to programmers who made FREE remakes, such as the wonderful Another Metroid Remake 2 (AM2R), whereas Sega actually HIRED the person who made free Sonic the Hedgehog games, realizing they've hired the best employee possible. Indeed, anyone who codes your game with no financial incentive, clearly loves the game and is passionate and Sega found an ideal employee, saving a lot of money from head hunting.

There was still a little doubt in my mind whether I wanted the Switch or not, because of the strength of their first and second-party games, but it became a firm decision to avoid the Switch when my friend lost a lot of his revenue to Nintendo. The negative practices in theory described above didn't really hit home until I experienced the pettiness of Nintendo on a personal basis. That definitely made my decision to buy the Switch an emphatic "no".

What completely cemented this decision and made me realize that I'm doing the absolute right thing, is the reveal of the next main entry (NOT spin-off) Monster Hunter World that will be on PC, PS4 and XBoxOne. Indeed, this made me yell like a banshee since the series can now take advantage of the current-gen technology, and unleash it's true potential. I also thought with relief, "now, there's really no reason for me to own a Switch".

Given the track record of the past two Metroid Games, Metroid Prime 4 doesn't appear promising; Samus is effectively dead thanks to Metroid: Other M and even worse, Metroid Prime: Federation Force. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 looked underwhelming, and it's unclear if there'll be a Bayonetta 3 on the Switch. And, I'm not interested in any Mario games, even though Super Mario Odyssey looks incredible, with emphasis on exploration. It looks like a masterpiece from what I've seen.

However, I wonder, if I love Mario as much as my favorite series, would I get the Switch? My knee-jerk reaction is "hell no", but if I love the game as much as Dark Souls/Bloodborne and this system is the ONLY way I can play the series, I sheepishly admit that I would throw all ethics out the window and get the Switch, but only in very particular conditions.

I would wait until all the technical glitches are ironed out, as there seems to be a lot of problems and no apps (??!?) with the launch. The launch was clearly rushed to appeal to the Board and shareholders for the upcoming financial quarter. Indeed, there were quite a few articles and videos about the dock scratching the screen, the left joy-con not syncing, and the poor design choices. Also, I have a feeling that once all the Nintendo fans buy the system, it might not continue to sell as well, and there will be an eventual price reduction.

I could be wrong, and perhaps since it's getting the 3DS games, it may take off and sell like hotcakes.  However, remember, the Switch has to compete with the upcoming XBox One X and all the AAA 3rd party games, PS4's onslaught of AAA/must-have exclusives, and ubiquitous Smart Phone games, so I foresee price reduction.

As for the Conflict Minerals dilemma, I think Nintendo will move forward to conflict-free mineral program, or so I hope, as a lot of industries have moved to conflict-free sources.

As for the consumer, I can only justify getting the Switch under these rather stringent and tight conditions:
  1. The glitches must be worked out and basic apps are included such as Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, and the like.
  2. Price must be reduced drastically, as well as prices on the necessary accessories. And I mean drastically to $150. Remember, in addition to the accessories such as Pro Controller, you need to buy a screen protector and memory card, as well as game. This may end up costing $250 which you can get a PS4 or XBox One S already bundled with a game. 
  3. You can easily afford the console without blinking.
  4. Super Mario Odyssey and anything Mario is truly your life-blood and soul, so the console is a "must". 
  5. You will NOT be upset if you use it for just one game.
 For now, I'm holding off.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tales of Berseria: Overlooked Masterpiece

I'm waiting for my friend to write a more lucid review that I can reference. He has a knack for spelling things out with not only specificity but also with clarity.

The other reason for not writing a comprehensive review at the time of the game's release in the U.S. (January 2017) is thus. I was starting the blog, and felt that readers might find this blog having a "f*minist (f*minist now appears to be a swear word these days) agenda" in pushing games with women lead characters, since I've just written reviews of Gravity Rush 2 and Horizon Zero Dawn. Indeed, it was ridiculously coincidental, that even I thought, "what's going on with all of these amazing games with women as the heroes?!?", such as Gravity Rush 2, Tales of Berseria, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Nier: Automata all within several months of each other, and all when I just started this blog.  

Nevertheless, I feel compelled to put my 2 cents in. When I finished the game, I had the same sad and sinking feeling that I get whenever I'm so immersed in the video game, so this is a signal to me that I just played a masterpiece. Therefore, on my second playthrough, I noticed that I missed a lot of the foreshadowing the first time around, which demonstrates how the game developers thought through every single plot point. Nothing in the game, even the smallest detail, is frivolous to the plot or character development.

The character portrayal of Velvet is the first element that made the game so immersive and relatable. Her loving and caring relationship with her brother (and vice versa) also pulls you into the game immediately, shown touchingly in the tutorial section of the game. Secondly, each party member has a story line that's quite brilliant, and each of their quests uncover their personalities and motivations, that span the entire game. You're compelled to find out why they've decided to join Velvet's team. So, the party members' character developments are given just as much attention as Velvet's.

Because each of your team member comes from very different backgrounds so that they may not have much in common with each other, they're not "chummy" with each other like a lot of JRPGs, except for Laphicet's relationship with Velvet. This is psychodynamically realistic. One of your team member's strategies to beating an overpowered boss is "we can beat him if we work together as a team". So I laughed when one of the members (Magilou?) actually remarked that this isn't going to happen, and that they needed to plan out another strategy. However, it made sense as to why they banded together as a team as they each have goals of their own to achieve.

Another strong emotional point of the game is that your enemies are so very despicable that you look forward to killing them--the only other video game enemy that I hate so much so viscerally was Alex in one of Xenoblade Chronicle X's side quests. I actually killed these enemies with gleeful abandon.

Although the dungeon and puzzle elements aren't as comprehensive or complex as Tales of Symphonia, the combat is quite addictive and fun, unlike Tales of Vesperia, where I abused the Holy Bottle (an item that makes you invisible to enemies) to escape all battles. 

There is a large diversity of enemies, but because the gameplay may be a bit "spammy", I tend to use the same techniques on all of them. However, the addictive element that led me to NOT escape battles is the challenge of building up these combos (filling the Break Soul gauge) so you can use Velvet's Consuming Claw. In that case, you do need to implement strategic dodging and attack placement, and combined with the overpowering feeling of the Consuming Claw, the gameplay is very satisfying and addictive.

I've only played three games of the Tales series, and Tales of Berseria is hands down my favorite.

At any rate, I will post a link to my friend's review for a more in-depth look at this absolutely brilliant game.



Monday, July 10, 2017

Graphics Are Important in Video Games

In video gaming, there's always the argument of which is more important, gameplay/fps or graphics, and I was always in the gameplay is more important than graphics camp. My position was that developers should use computing resources for smoother frame rates, and concentrate on gameplay elements over graphics. Of course, this position doesn't make sense, as there are many games that have both great graphics AND gameplay.

However, if I were forced to chose, I was always in the gameplay camp as graphics weren't important to me until recently. Playing Final Fantasy VII, I used a walkthrough and wondered, what items are they talking about? I'm awful with spatial awareness with poor vision, but can I be that lost? What do you mean pick up the health potion at the start of the game (i.e. the train station)? Confused, I watched videos, and the item in question was a yellow dot on the floor. 

As for Chrono Trigger, I played the game almost blindly, and one of the few times I consulted a guide was when I thought I was at the mountain that you're supposed to enter, but I couldn't find the entrance; or, given my bad sense of directions, is this in fact the correct mountain? The video clarified that the entrance is this small black dot in the mountain that's hard to see.

The examples above show that these graphics are outdated, but they didn't impact how brilliant the games are, so I didn't understand why some gamers are so focused on graphics. In fact, I wondered, why can't more games be like Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger?

So, until 2017, I found graphics irrelevant. However, as I mentioned in my prior posts, with Nioh and Breath of the Wild causing physical issues (eye-, neck-strain and headaches), I realize that graphics are absolutely crucial to the gaming experience. I feel developers should focus on graphics that have clean lines (i.e. anti-aliasing with no jaggies), and lighting/shading effects to make sure the game is in fact clear and not muddy like Nioh. A game CAN be dark but also easy to see such as Hollow Knight. If Nioh had clear graphics like that, I'd definitely play it again to see if I can beat the end-game solo.

During the E3 2017 conference, there was a game featured that is Dark Souls-like called Ashen, exclusively for the XBoxOne/Windows. The lack of textures was disappointing--the characters don't even have two dots for eyes--that my immediate thought was why play this game when there are other games with more polished graphics and presentation such as Salt & Sanctuary (which I'll be getting once my backlog is reduced)? Further, I didn't quite like the art direction and style of Ashen. Even so, at least Ashen doesn't appear that it would cause eye-strain, but the graphic presentation made it seem lackluster (perhaps unfairly).

I'm certainly not advocating bleeding-edge graphics like Uncharted 4 in all games, or incredible art direction like the movie, Spirited Away, but a game with decent, pleasant art with no jaggies is reasonable, and doesn't require untenable amounts of resources.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Monday Musings 1

I've decided to do a weekly post as I love the idea of Todd Mason's Sweet Freedom's Friday Forgotten Books. These posts will be mostly about video games, of course, and other musings.

My goal is to post on Sunday for Monday. I'm hoping I can keep up with the weekly pacing!

Gears of War Remastered: Masterful Pacing
One of my online gaming buddies is a huge Gears of War fan, and with purchase of XBox One, getting the Gears of War remastered (and if completed by a certain date, you get Gears of War 2 and 3 free) was a no-brainer due to value and quality. Third-person shooters are not my favorite genre, but it was nevertheless interesting to see why the Gears of War series is so insanely popular, as well as critically acclaimed.

I was impressed with the character development, plot, level design, and tight gameplay controls, but what struck me as absolutely genius is the pacing. I remember completing a section and then thinking, "oh no, I don't want to shoot anymore", thinking there's another section that I have to clear out, but the game goes to a cutscene, giving me time to relax and enjoy the story. This occurs every time without fail and makes for a smooth, brilliant game.

I really think that the game developer, Epic Games, probably hired thousands of testers to find out the ideal times to rest; it was quite uncanny. The cutscenes not only give you rest and rewards you for completing a section, but also adds to character development, camaraderie of the team, and plot. Gears of War is a masterpiece in the third-person shooter genre.

Another game along the same vein is Rise of the Tomb Raider. I remember getting tired of collecting items and exploring, but then realizing, "oh yeah, I can go on to the main mission". Once I needed more rest from the action-heavy main missions, I went back to collecting. However, Gears of War took that to the next level where they make sure you get proper rest, making the game journey effortless and soothing. 

This serves as a reminder that I still need to play 2 and 3.

Perfecting the XBox One Pro Elite Controller
XBox One Pro Elite's D-Pad
The Elite is the greatest controller made to date, and I'm quite surprised that this isn't the official controller for the upcoming, powerful, deluxe XBox One X. The X is not quite deluxe without the Pro Elite.

The D-pad of prior XBox Controllers (including the One as it has that weird un-leveled, hard indentation feel to it) is not good, but the D-Pad of the Elite is actually better than even Sony's DualShock controllers, as long as you use that weird looking gray piece--it has a better and smoother feel than even the once industry-standard D-pad design of the DS controllers.

Both of my Xbox One controllers no longer worked wired due to the micro-usb connectors (they ended up slipping off and no longer connecting), but for some reason, the XBox One Pro's micro-usb connection works perfectly with the quality braided USB connector that's included. I think the connection is more snug and better fitted with the Pro Elite than the One.

Even so, Elite can be perfected. Instead of having the faulty and broken micro-usb connection, perhaps it could have the equally universally standard mini-usb, which the DS3 controller uses. The mini-usb never falls off or breaks, so the controller can be even more durable. Or, lightning usb connection, for the same reasons.

The controller is perfectly balanced, but if they can take that perfect balance and make it as light as possible, that would be very much appreciated. It does get heavy after awhile, so it would help gamers like me who like extremely light controllers to reduce wrist strain.

Those who like more weighted controllers, however, there could be customizable weights that you can add, and given the brilliant Microsoft engineers, they will make it so that the weight is NOT lopsided when you make the controller heavier.

I noticed with the PS4 pro controller counterpart, the dreadful Nacon Revolution, that as you add the weights, it gets heavy at the bottom and considerably lighter at top, which is unpleasing. I do NOT recommend the Nacon Revolution, despite it looking like the XBox One controllers, as the ergonomics may be even worse than the original DS4 controller. Fortunately, my friend felt it was ergonomic (unless he was trolling?), so at least it's being put to good use and not going to waste.

The ideal analog stick shapes are for the left to be convex, and the right stick to be domed. It's difficult to explain why until you experience this. Unfortunately, the Elite only comes with a longer domed stick, which makes sense for FPS for more precise control with aiming. However, for RPGs, being that the stick is too long, your finger has to travel further for the more heavily used A, B, X, Y buttons. It would've been perfect if there's a domed stick that is the same height as the shortest convex-shaped stick.

Hopefully Microsoft will come out with a new version of the Elite and include those features.

Rumors: Microsoft Producing a Horizon: Zero Dawn-like Game
This actually made me sad, because Microsoft almost had a game that I think would've been even better than Guerrilla Games' HZD in PlatinumGames's now dead Scalebound. Why waste time, money and effort to hire a new team, when you could just stick with Platinum, led by Kamiya. That is, if and only if Microsoft let Kamiya, the developer, do his own thing, like Sony allowed Guerrilla Games. 

I really wondered why Scalebound looked absolutely dreadful in the E3 conferences, to the point where I thought Kamiya really lost all of his gaming genius, his genius flushed down
Scalebound, Drew and Thuban, BFFs
the toilet. I was appalled, "this is from the same director of Bayonetta?!??", to the point where I thought the B-team was making Scalebound. And, upon seeing the Sony E3 conference, I thought that the A-team was developing Nier: Automata--the boss battles were so creative, unique, dramatic and elaborate, and the gameplay so fluid, fast with tight controls (the player maneuvered 2B effortlessly), that I was surprised to find it was the opposite.


However, seeing that Microsoft forced Kamiya to make huge concessions, including the awful multi-player component shown in E3 2016, it all now makes sense. Platinum only spent a few years on the game but it seems that Microsoft felt that the team was "wasting resources". 

On the flip side, Guerrilla Games spent nearly 7 years on HZD despite Sony's dire economic problems, and was able to do whatever they wanted, creating something they are passionate about. Any time you see the team talking about this game on YouTube, passion, love and commitment oozed out of their pores. No wonder HZD became a blockbuster hit, and Microsoft is struggling to find their killer app.

If Microsoft can trust PlatinumGames to do its thing, and they surely can afford a few more years in development being so flush with cash unlike Sony during HZD's development time, they would've landed an instant masterpiece and possible system-seller (it's hard to predict what would sell), but it would be a masterpiece nevertheless.

However, the treatment of Kamiya and his team is the textbook definition of "penny-wise, pound-foolish" and short-sighted vision combined. There is no need to "force" another team to copy HZD, as it most likely won't be good being forced to do something. Rather it makes more sense to keep the already existing passionate and superb team in PlatinumGames. Indeed, Platinum is going to be superior to any team that you cobble together willy-nilly like it seems Microsoft is doing.

I'm hoping that Kamiya will take his original, boyhood dream and ideas to PC and/or Sony. and make this extremely ambitious and technical-heavy game, of course, under a different name (maybe Dragon Elite?). This will NOT go against copyright issues since his original vision is in direct opposition to Microsoft's, so he'll just need to change the title.

Imagine being able to create your own pet dragon, Thuban, whom you can ride and fight along with, changing his wings, his abilities (I'm assuming there's a perk/leveling up system), the color of his scales, claws and so forth. If I can get attached to something so un-emotional as a fully-upgraded weapon, I can only imagine how attached I'd feel with a dragon who has a personality and becomes your friend, and whom you help create and develop! You also get quests from interesting NPCs and towns.

Granted, the main character, Drew, as shown in E3 2015 and 2016 is cringe-worthy, but his characterization may have been influenced by Microsoft. Kamiya could come up with a more sympathetic and relatable character, someone more like Sora of Kingdom Hearts or Oliver from Ni No Kuni: this would prevent copyright infringement, as characters like Sora are the direct opposite to Microsoft's forced character.

Further, I'm sure you can also change Drew's stats and abilities as well, as this appears to be a proper RPG that has complex, deep customizable elements to it. He has transforming claws, so perhaps part of the customization might lead to more impressive and more dangerous claws as you level up?  Not to mention Platinum's incredibly-designed weapons. The Platinum signature gameplay will be as tight and impressive as Bayonetta and Nier: Automata, at 60fps. If this is not a masterpiece, I don't know what is.

Kamiya's vision may not necessarily lead to a blockbuster as these are difficult to gauge, but at least it would be an impressive title, a veritable masterpiece, that you can showcase in your advertisements. Microsoft needs to realize that not all games must be blockbuster hits selling 10 million copies first week, but if they're quality titles, people will see the value of your consoles.

This year, Tales of Berseria, Gravity Rush 2, Yakuza 0, Nioh, Nier: Automata and Persona 5 didn't sell nearly as much as the GTA/COD blockbuster titles, but they all became reasons to own a PS4.

In the meantime, I'm hoping that Kamiya will be able to realize his boyhood dream, a magnificent dream that we can all love and enjoy.

-Alice





Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Kaceytron Controversy

If you ever watch any Twitch channel, and are even remotely interested in League of Legends, doing even the most minimal research, the subject of Twitch streamer, Kaceytron, will come up on the LoL forums. The so-called controversy of Kaceytron was quite visible even during the first few days I started watching Twitch.

Almost all of the forum members wanted Kaceytron banned for being so rude to her subscribers, often cursing them out if she gets killed, despite all of her deaths completely being her fault. They also bemoaned the fact that she's really not playing the game, and only doing this for money due to her sexualized nature. It was upsetting to me that a Twitch streamer would be so nasty to such a faithful subscriber, who pays faithfully month after month. As a result, I refused to go on her channel as I felt that this is rewarding bad behavior.

Later, I noticed that quite a few people on the Twitch streams I follow would post Kaceytron emoticons: by hovering over the icon, it will list where they come from. Horrified, I asked one subscriber how can he possibly follow Kaceytron, when she is so nasty to her loyal followers. He merely replied, "LOL", so I felt there was something more to the story than what the LoL forum users describe, so I decided to check out her channel.

Upon watching Kaceytron's stream for the first time, I was struck by how many comments flew by, hundreds upon hundreds. The next thing I noticed is how appalling the language was. I'm not bothered by swear words, but the comments are so nasty and foul that the worst internet comments I've read prior to Kaceytron's chat room were actually polite and pleasant. After being inured to these comments, I then noticed that the Kaceytron bot (these bots automatically send messages to the chat room) was constantly reminding moderators to NOT suppress any speech, and to respect the first amendment, which made me lol.

After these first 10 seconds of impressions, I then watched Kaceytron playing LoL, and I was very surprised and startled as to why the forum members don't realize that she's playing an obvious Persona parodying sexualized woman streamers, and that she intentionally provokes nasty comments in rather humorous, dead-pan, ways, that I really don't know how any one can miss that. Since I found her intentionally dead-pan, jaded tone amusing, I subscribed to her channel.

The first few months that I followed Kaceytron on a regular basis, it's clear that she's intelligent and has excellent comedic timing. The other interesting thing to notice is that her channel and her shows are well put together, and it seems that she prepares for quite a few of her streams.

For instance, Kaceytron has a fake channel news (Gaming News) that's actually more professional and objective than the Fox News Channel, which quite a few people pointed out in the chat room. Setting something up like that takes time and effort, and it continues to make me laugh as the banner underneath states, "Respect, Dignity & Gameplay" which is the opposite of the chat room, and Kaceytron intentionally plays poorly. I especially enjoyed Gaming News's endorsement of Donald Trump as a "supporter" of gaming, even though his tweet was extremely anti-video games. Hillary Clinton's speech on video games was a non-controversial promise to back Mature M rating on video-games, which no one is against. So, if anything, Clinton is far more pro-gaming than Trump.

In a lot of her other streams, she would have pretend professional gamers, and chat-favorite, Catcam, member of the factitious "GrandNationalChampions" team, on her channel.

Kaceytron's professionalism also is shown by having a regular set time when she streams, and she also sends messages to her subscribers when she will not be streaming. She also publishes newsletters for subscribers. I have not watched her channel recently, so I'm not sure if this has continued, but while I was watching her stream the first few months, she was always present on schedule, and sent messages when she won't be available. The most successful streamers tend to have set schedules that they follow consistently, and Kaceytron goes above these to let her subscribers know when she won't be there.

As for Kaceytron cursing out her subscribers, it's actually an honor to be singled out, which was absolutely lost on the LoL forum users. During one of her rants, when she was cursing out her users for once again insulting her, there was an automatic message that I was a subscriber of her channel for 18 months. You can share this to the streamer and chat room by clicking on the button.

Upon clicking on the button and seeing my username on the screen, in the midst of her rants, Kaceytron said, "and fuck you too, Alice Chang for subscribing to my channel for 18 years [sic]", which made me lol. I recently changed my username to fuzzyLogicGamerBlogspot to reflect this blog. I quickly told my friends who know about Kaceytron, and they all found it rather amusing. I sent her a message stating that I really enjoyed her expletive, and she replied thanking me for understanding that this was an act, and that not a lot of people understand that.

And yes, I'm a proud owner and wearer of a purple Kaceytron t-shirt.

-Alice

Monday, July 3, 2017

E3 2017: Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony


E3 2017: Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony

Nintendo
Out of the three, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, I felt that technically, in terms of the general gaming world, Nintendo "won" the E3 conference with the announcement of these games for the Switch: Metroid Prime 4, a true main-line Pokemon (as opposed to an off-shoot),  Super Mario Odyssey, and then for the 3DS, remake of Metroid 2:Samus Returns.

I'm no longer interested in the Metroid series since Nintendo effectively killed Samus in Metroid: Other M. Samus, destroyer of planets, was depicted lower than a door mat to her commander, despite literally stating that she hates taking orders in prior Metroid games. Further, Metroid: Federation Force was disastrous. You don't even play as Samus, but rather one of the generic federation members. This is like having a Star Wars game but instead of being Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, or hell, even Princess Leia, you instead play as a generic storm trooper, and Han and Luke playing secondary roles (as NPCs, they're bartenders in-game), which no one wants.

So, Samus went from lower than door mat to even worse, not even the playable character. I have a feeling that Metroid Prime 4 may diminish Samus even further in favor of Sylux as per the director's "interest" in the character. Another red flag is that Retro Studios (who developed the Prime series) will not develop this game, but rather a "talented" team. You can see why I'm not convinced.

Another Metroid 2 Remake (AM2R), which is a free fan-made game, made me pre-order the official Nintendo remake of Metroid 2: Samus Returns for the 3DS. Of course, Nintendo placed a cease and desist against this developer.  Further, when one of my YouTube buddies on a stream mentioned that he barely made any money (but made Nintendo at least $100) being a member of the Nintendo "White List" YouTube program, I cancelled my order immediately.

I'm sorry, but does a billion dollar company really need that extra $100, whereas $100 means a lot to us?

Microsoft
The XBox One X is an impressive console, but the only game I was interested in was the sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, which I don't feel needs the graphical power of the XBox One X. Further, I noticed that the upgraded console didn't seem to include the Pro Elite Controller which again, is the absolute best controller on the market.

So I most likely won't get the X because it appears that game developers, to maximize resources and to save time, develop for the least powerful console. It doesn't make sense to program to maximize Playstation 4 Pro, and then program another set for the XBox One X.

It's more cost-effective and time-saving to develop for XBox One (which will also be almost the same code for PS4), and then the upgraded version for Playstation 4 Pro (with almost the same code for XBox One X).

At any rate, I teared up when I heard the piano music and then the trailer, so this is a pre-order for me, but for my regular One.

Sony
Out of the three E3 console conferences, I was the most excited about the multi-platform Monster Hunter World in a simultaneous world-wide release. In the past, we poor Westerners got the game one year later than Japan.

When I saw what suspiciously looked like a high definition version of the Bone Kris weapon, I was thinking, no this couldn't be Monster Hunter so as not to get my hopes up. Further, I wasn't convinced since it appeared that Nintendo's 3DS has a monopoly on this series.

But then I saw the main character carving a dead monster, and collecting items, which became even more suspicious, so when it was revealed, I shrieked with not just excitement but incredulity. It was the same reaction I had at the God of War 4 reveal during last year's E3 conference: when I saw Kratos's ugly face, I shrieked like a banshee: "KRATOS!!!", never expecting this series revival.

The 3DS Monster Hunter series was problematic due to the dreadful draw distance and pop-ins, not to mention the 240p (?) graphics. I saw what appeared to be a blue herb that I should collect for the insect glaive weapon, but upon approach, it was actually a blue Velocidrome monster. That's pretty bad. This will not be a problem with the much more powerful current consoles and PC. 

My friend was going to do co-op with me, but when he saw Monster Hunter Generations on my new new New New large 3DS (there is yet another iteration of the 3DS called 2DS), he said it hurt his eyes, so understandably, he refused out of health concerns.

At any rate, this was the biggest announcement to me in the whole E3 Conference, even surpassing the Beyond Good and Evil 2 announcement, and I already knew about God of War 4, the Horizon Zero Dawn DLC, and Ni No Kuni 2, so they didn't hold the same surprising excitement.

However, I was very impressed with the Spider-Man trailer as it brought something new to the tablePeter Parker actually came across as instantly likable in Insomniac's game, which was lost on Hollywood's past Spider-Man movies. How is it possible that Andrew Garfield came across as bland, despite being a charismatic actor? 

If what was shown is true gameplay footage, I'm extremely impressed with the polish, steady frame-rate and interesting game mechanics with use of web-shooter. Further, Insomniac Games is a superb game developer. I'm hoping that Sony doesn't pressure Insomniac to publish this game this fall to "compete" with Super Mario Odyssey, as I would prefer it to be delayed to 2018 if needed for extra polish.

Because of the Monster Hunter World announcement, and the never before seen gameplay of Spiderman, as well as upcoming God of War 4, Horizon DLC, Ni No Kuni 2, for me, Sony "won" the E3 conference.

-Alice




Monday, June 26, 2017

Reading the Witcher Books Before Playing Witcher 3

Ever since the Witcher 3's game release (May 19, 2015), I have been debating whether I should play the game or not: the major deterrent is that quite a few players of the game noted the clunky melee combat. I tried to play the Elder Scrolls Series (Oblivion and Skyrim), and while realizing the critical and commercial acclaim, the melee elements were so unsatisfying that I couldn't continue with the games. 

Often times, a game's story is such that even if the gameplay elements are not quite satisfying, I end up enjoying the game nevertheless.  Therefore, I felt that I may enjoy playing the Witcher 3 if I appreciate the story more; the plot and character development eclipsing the awkward gameplay mechanics. Upon researching, gamers have almost unanimously agreed that reading all the novels in the series of which this game is based on will make you appreciate the game considerably more, though not necessary. I thought it made sense to read the novels and if I really love the series, then playing the Witcher 3 is a no-brainer. Further, I want to support CD Project Red as they are incredibly generous to their fans.


I started with the first of the two short-story collections, The Last Wish, on the Kindle eBook device. It was recommended by gamers to read the first two short-story collections, and then the next 5 novels.

I was impressed by how the game closely adheres to this book, from what I've read about the video game. The very beginning of course introduces us to our hero, Geralt of Rivia, and describes what a Witcher is and does. The fact that Witchers make their livelihood by successfully completing paid missions, lend this novel very well to the open world genre due to the genre's sidequest structure.

The other thing the game developers did that was truthful to the novel is how Geralt's in-game movement matches the novel's description. Often, I would read complaints about how he pirouettes more than he attacks in combat gameplay, and in fact, in the novel, the author constantly describes Geralt pirouetting to dodge attacks.

The author also discusses how Geralt uses potions to "buff" himself before a fight, such as granting him night vision and other alchemy, which is also a significant gameplay element.

A little further in the novel, it is clear that Geralt is "over-sexed" and irresistible to women which is also consistent with the game.

I very much enjoyed the first two short stories, as the description of how Geralt comes upon the missions, the mission description, and his use of tools and techniques were new and hence interesting. The issue is that after these missions, it becomes repetitive. I don't expect The Last Wish to be as unique and varied as Edith Wharton's collection of short stories, but it gets old after awhile, using the mission, complete the mission story arc.  Additionally, there are quite long passages describing Geralt battling the various monsters which become tiresome after reading the umpteenth pirouette. Action in novels can never be as gripping as they are in movies, television and videogames. Finally, the relational dynamics between the characters are not quite compelling.

As a result, I could only read up to 51% of the novel (the Kindle gives you markers) before I gave up. I wonder if I'm overly critical of The Last Wish, since the last books I have read were Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks (with the ever demanding N.C., Esq. lurking around) and Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. Although, I could be reading other more interesting and compelling books than The Last Wish, and I still want to get around re-reading Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain.

I recommend that you borrow the book from the library before committing to a purchase, or even more conveniently, read the fan-translations. I've read comments that they are quite close to the official translation, some arguing that they're even better. If you're able to finish it and you truly enjoy it, then it makes sense to read the remaining novels. 

However, if you are like me, I would recommend reading synopsis of these novels.

Even so, I might give The Last Wish another go at it, especially as readers mention that the novels get better, and really helped them to significantly appreciate the game.

-Alice




Thursday, June 15, 2017

Titanic: The Titan of Movies

GUEST WRITER, N.C., Esq.


I was very skeptical regarding the glowing reviews of Titanic (1997) which led to a breathtaking and improbable sweep of the Oscars, winning 11 out of 14 categories, which had me choke on my chocolate martini at that time. I am also very particular of how I spend my time, so I didn't watch the movie until September 2012, with the release of the new 3D version.

Since I'm very interested in the technology of 3D, I reluctantly pencilled this into my very demanding schedule. Looking back in my Moleskine calendar, it was September 15, 2012, a day I will never forget. After the movie, I came out thinking that Titanic was robbed, and should have won the last 3 Oscar categories. How can Kate Winslet NOT win Best Actress, the luminary Gloria Stuart should have clearly won Best Supporting Actress, and I'm truly appalled that this film did not pick up Best Makeup. I was also angered that Titanic did not do as commercially well as the overblown Gone With the Wind, making only 2.5 billion dollars (adjusted for inflation, 2014). Does this demonstrate that only critics (who universally lauded the film) have good taste compared to the General Public and the Awards Committees? I would dare say so.


Braque, Man with a Guitar, 1911
The movie evokes Greek Mythology at its most traumatic and tragic. I felt that this movie is the modern day Cassandra. The Titanic ended up sinking in real-life (as analogous to Cassandra's predictions), but during the movie, I felt that there is no way that this ship can sink. The movie really honed in that idea to the point where I questioned reality. Indeed, the Cubist portrayal of the verticality of the ship before sinking was so improbable, that the opposite conclusion was felt: yes, historians MUST have made up the fact that it truly sunk for good back in April 1912.

Again, I was struck regarding the invocation of Cubism, as I wonder, do ALL masterpieces have cubist elements, from Breath of the Wild (easily argued as the best video game of all time) to now Titanic? In fact, Braque's Man with a Guitar was composed one year earlier to the sinking, foreshadowing this worst of tragedies. I feel that evocation of Cubism is a major theme in masterpieces.

I literally gasped (along with all the audience members in the packed theater) when, near the end, the film's rendition of the Titanic went vertical, and then sunk. I was shocked when reality struck me, with the revelation that the Titanic really occurred, unfortunately. Not since the Greek dramatist, Aeschylus, has a work of art encapsulated human misfortune so poignantly.

The roles of Jack and Rose were masterfully portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and they sizzled on screen. I took heed of the warning of the movie theater, that in case of a fire, do NOT run, but walk to the emergency exit, so steamy was their chemistry. If I can bottle that level of chemistry, this would be an aphrodisiac that actually works. I'm not one to swoon over actors, but, yes, I was quite jealous that I (instead of the amazingly lucky Ms. Winslet) was NOT the one being painted by the handsome (quite an understatement) DiCaprio. I checked my blood pressure and glucose readings during film as I swooned and fainted multiple times. So perhaps, in a Schadenfraude way, I took some small comfort that Winslet did not win Best Actress. However, at the same time, should not the Awards Committee be more objective and award what is due to Ms. Winslet? I feel this demonstrates that Awards, symbolizing crash commercialism, should not be used to judge Art anymore.

Billy Zane's dastardly depiction of the villain, Caledon Hockley, was quite subtle. I thought that he was Rose's clear choice (though I had some inkling that he was not a good man), and surprised at the twist, when it was revealed near the end of the film, that Jack was in fact Rose's one true love (?!??). Usually, in these triangular situations, the woman's love interests feature one extremely noble gentleman, and the other, a true rogue, so it's quite clear who the woman would chose. Not so in Titanic. The movie's eschewing this predictable trope is another demonstration of its brilliance. I have never seen such nuance since Mann's Buddenbrooks. In the future, Zane, such an under-appreciated actor, deserves more leading roles.

This film made me a better woman: after the viewing, I made a resolution to be more open-minded and not so quick to judge if I haven't experienced the work. I think when a film can change your perspective and how you view things, that's a mark of a masterpiece. Titanic deserves its accolades and more, truly a Titan amongst Titans.

-N.C., Esq.




Thursday, June 8, 2017

Appreciating Dark Souls 3: Tips and Review

As a Dark Souls junkie, I was counting down the days until the release of Dark Souls 3, especially as it was directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki, the genius behind Demon's Souls and Dark Souls 1. I know that Dark Souls 2 was heavily criticized by fans of the series, but I loved the game almost as much as I did Dark Souls.  Some of 2's elements were better than the original's, and the entire game had consistently good level design, unlike the hated Demon Ruins and Lost Izalith of Dark Souls. I thought that since, unlike the second game, this was directed by Miyazaki and, with the success of this series, From Software will have even more resources to make a grander game, I was excited by the potential for Dark Souls 3 to eclipse both previous games.

Coming into the game thus with too-great expectations, I played without any guides, to fully immerse myself in the experience, and came away from it a bit disappointed, so didn't go back to collect items as I have done in previous Souls games. In my disappointment, I felt that it was trying to reprise the level design of Dark Souls and the atmosphere of Demon's Souls but didn't quite succeed with either. This might be unfair as I have never played games that had better level design than Dark Souls nor better atmosphere than Demon's Souls.

I felt it a pastiche of the past Souls games. Irithyll Dungeon is like Demon's Souls' Tower of Latria, but not as atmospheric and with simpler level design. The city of Anor Londo is almost exactly like Dark Souls' Anor Londo, but it didn't feature the rather complex interior of the castle, from the bonfire at the entrance to the infamous Ornstein and Smough boss-battle. Even though I found a certain development heartbreaking and devastating, the passage was nevertheless more linear than I would have liked. To avoid spoilers I won't mention what I saw that was so sad, but if you've played Dark Souls, you'll know what I'm talking about once you reach that point.
The infamous Ornstein and Smough

I'd say the game had too many enemies, and overpowered ones, all grouped together, thus making the game difficult for difficulty's sake, instead of being fair. In quite a few areas, I ran from enemies, missing the exploration, which is one of my favorite elements of gameplay. That was disappointing.

Despite that, I purchased the expansion, since the two previous Dark Souls games' DLCs are even better than the main games. However, when the last DLC (The Ringed City) came out this year, I didn't go back to Dark Souls 3, especially as 2017 has been the year of amazing games and  Dark Souls 3 struck me as "meh".

However, with the rumor of Bloodborne 2 possibly being announced at the E3 2017 conference (June 13-15), I got so excited, with renewed interest in the SoulsBorne series,  and decided to revisit. Further, it would give me a chance to experience the additional content of Ashes of Ariandel and The Ringed City, so that my purchase wouldn't go to waste, and reducing backlog is always its own reward.

My goals for this second playthrough are: to defeat all enemies so I can explore (to see if I was correct about the unfair difficulty), maintain realistic expectations, and get the platinum trophy. I used DieNoob's superb 100% item walkthrough, and the Xbox Achievements which I copied and pasted into a checklist form. You can either check off the boxes if you're familiar with Google Docs, or print it.

Thus armed and prepared, I started the game. I was struck by the clarity of the graphics, since recently I had played Nioh, so muddy I had to squint and crane my neck, and Breath of the Wild, which had even worse graphics, inducing headache and eyestrain. I appreciated being able to sit back and play Dark Souls 3 without it encouraging physical ailments. After a few seconds, I wondered how I'd missed the sharpness of the imagery in first playthrough. I never cared for graphics before, as even the retro games I played weren't so taxing. But with the current generation of games, I can see why some gamers obsess about graphics, and I'm coming around to their view.

The melee and ranged combat has the same tight, addictive and visceral feel as its successors'. I'd say, in this respect, the SoulsBorne series is best in class. I had fun playing with the Weapon Art of the Uchigatana, which has a parry moveset. The parry and riposte, as well as backstabs, along with the visceral sounds of all the attacks, are just as satisfying as ever. The Weapon Arts are a new feature and make combat even more fun. Each weapon class has its unique technique, adding to the diversity of combat choices.

I also appreciated more the diverse settings of the game and the variety of enemies; I kept thinking how polished the game is, and how each area is so well-crafted, in detail and design. I took this for granted first time through.

The snowy Irithyll of the Boreal Valley
An especially beautiful area to showcase is Irithyll of the Boreal Valley. In addition to the gorgeous landscape, the buildings have intricate architectural details. Even more so than Dark Souls, all the areas of this game are impeccably designed, as opposed to the aforementioned Demon Ruins and Lost Izalith areas. I feel that if this were the first Souls game I played, I would've been blown away by the game's beauty (terrible beauty in some areas), splendor, polish and carefully crafted level design. But because I played the other games, I blithely expected these.

Since I was using DieNoob's walkthrough, I missed a lot of intricacies, so I couldn't really appreciate this ingenious level design on my first blind playthrough. I was taken aback when I completely missed a major covenant, The Blades of the Dark Moon. This is equivalent to not knowing that a field goal in American football scores three points, the covenant is that well-known in the Souls community.

An example of the spectacular design is in the area that leads to Yhorm the Giant. Irithyll Dungeon leads to the Profaned Capital, which also leads back to the Dungeon's entry bonfire in a convoluted, clever manner. You find keys to open shortcuts, and end up going to very diverse areas ranging from: inside/outside the dungeon, rolling through a toxic swamp, climbing up and down a large building structure that includes towers and rooftops, jumping through a window, and riding elevators, all of which lead you back to the entry bonfire!

As for enemy placement, one of my initial gripes, there are a lot of them grouped together. However, if you aggravate one enemy at a time and take cover, it's easy to thin the crowd, albeit it takes time and patience to take the necessary care. A bow is a must, and doesn't require a lot of stat requirements. As I do my usual twist on "jack of all trades, master of everything," I aim for getting at least 40's in all the major stats, and so I used the Pharis Bow as it has the longest range. It takes Dexterity 18; however, if you're aiming for a Dexterity build, I recommend the Pharis Bow as it will aggro an enemy at an even further, safer distance.  But the short and long bows will suffice if you don't want to invest in Dexterity.

To kill all enemies to allow for exploration, I needed to use strategy, another welcome surprise. For instance, in the major square of Irithyll, there are so many tall, overpowered mages and other enemies clustered around them. The first time, I made a suicide run, grabbing items along the way. With this playthrough, I found that in going to the side and taking cover, I was able to bring down one enemy at a time, whereas heading straight on, they all attack you at the same time. I shot arrows until the enemy approached and then melee'd to death. Sometimes, they don't even approach you, and you can kill them with arrows. Interestingly, only the enemy you shoot at will approach you, the others ignoring and not wanting to help their "buddy". This first tip worked for all overpowered mobs throughout the game. I didn't realize that since this was not the case in the prior Souls games.

Elder Ghru
Getting arguably the best bow in the game brings up another complaint I had in my first playthrough: the overpowered enemies. In order to get the Pharis Bow, one faces a species of ridiculously strong demons in the Farron Swamp: the Elder Ghru. Each one feels like a mini-boss and there are, first, three clumped together, and there are four or five gathered in another area of the swamp. You also have to contend with being poisoned in the Farron. 

Two of the three drop either the Pharis Bow or the Pharis Hat. The latter can add range to any bow, which of course helps even more with sniping. The problem is that they respawn if you die, so you have to start all over again. I can beat one successfully, but three times in a row (or two if you know which ones drop the Pharis items) is not doable at my skill level, unless I spend hours on this alone.

This is where the save/copy/download method is crucial, a second major tip. For the Ghru, shoot an arrow to aggro. To make it easier (though it's not necessary), use one of the resins to buff your weapon: I found the gold pine bundle/resin useful. Upon each defeat of the Ghrus, save and copy. Download if you die so you can continue with the next Ghru. This would save not only time, but resources as they are limited at this point in the game. 
Orbeck of Vinheim: A Demanding Guy

The third tip is to get the Slumbering Dragoncrest ring that silences your footsteps. You do so by having Intelligence level 10, necessary so as to talk with Orbeck of Vinheim, the sorcerer. He is first located before the Crystal Sage boss fight, then moves to Firelink Shrine after you agree to get scrolls for him. After buying his spells Aural Decoy, Farron Flashsword, Pestilent Mercury and Spook, he gives you the ring. This would make sneaking up to and teasing out enemies one at a time even easier, though it's also not essential. Although you don't get the visceral crunch of footsteps, the ring gives an interesting feel of floating when wearing it, which is equally nice.

Other significant elements of Dark Souls 3 are the questlines, and they add to the world and lore of the game. I found the Siegward questline a great example of the usual fetch-quest-and-kill-monsters, done in a creative and subtle way. Another questline doesn't have any of the usual sidequest mechanics, and adds a fascinating, albeit grotesque, story through the cutscenes involved. This quest also adds to the lore of one of the major concepts, linking the fire to it, and spells this out in a clearer way than do the prior Souls games, which is very welcome. 

As for replayability, I'm not sure how good the PvP and co-op is in Dark Souls 3, since I haven't used these features. Like Dark Souls 2, the NG+ cycles not only increase in difficulty, but you obtain more powerful rings. So, for the Ring of Favour and Protection, in NG+, you can find the Ring of Favour and Protection +1, all the way up to the +3 ring, so there is significant replay value here.

Recap of tips, and appreciating Dark Souls 3
I would use the checklist as it's satisfying to get the Achievement/Trophy and it helps you to complete interesting questlines, which are extremely easy to miss. With my first blind walkthrough, I don't think I completed any of the questlines successfully. In fact, some players have missed questlines even when using guides.

Read the objectives before each area so you know how to answer questions from various characters, and to make sure you don't miss an event or item. Then go through the area on your own, keeping the objectives in mind, to enjoy the exploration and surprises. Note that the checklist doesn't have major spoilers, but I wouldn't use the checklist if you want to avoid the names of bosses, characters and items.

After completing each area, I would then use DieNoob's walkthrough to make sure you obtained all items, which will give you an edge, as well as appreciation for the incredible level design.

In difficult areas, use the bow and arrow method to tease out each enemy, and save/copy technique. To make stealth even easier, obtain the Slumbering Dragoncrest ring from Orbeck.

Rating of Game
As I came to the game expecting it would blow Dark Souls 1 and 2 away, I can see why I was disappointed my first time around. If I never experienced those two games, I would have been enthralled by and addicted to Dark Souls 3: I can see myself immediately buying and playing all the SoulsBorne games after finishing, wanting more. 

During my second playthrough, with my expectations in check, I was able to see the polish of Dark Souls 3. Given that polish, intricate level design, addictive combat mechanics with the new Weapon Art mechanic, variety of enemies, unique bosses, and interesting questlines, I rate the game an A+, a masterpiece.


-Alice

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