Sunday, July 30, 2017

Monday Musings 3

Fountain Pens 
As I got swept into the world of Bullet Journaling, the hot topic is fountain pens, and I remember growing up, I've always wanted a very nice fountain pen, given my love of stationary, so I wanted to learn more about them.

I read about the basics of fountain pens, and my heart sank. The very first and basic point made about fountain pens is that you should NEVER let anyone use your pen as it would change the way the nibs feel, as they're shaped by the individual way that you write and place pressure, so it would warp the nibs in the wrong way, that won't be uniquely yours, if someone dares even breathe on the pen!

That's a complete deal-breaker, because the most fun part of pens is sharing them with your friends, so you can have a rich discussion into the feel, the color, how fun it is and how it compares to other pens. I remember that my friend and I were surprised that we both felt that this particular drug-rep pen is the best, because the ink has a clicky feel when using it that's extremely pleasant, and it makes you write neater, which is hard to explain, but we both agreed at once. And, it was fun to discuss why we love this pen so much. We both then bitched and moaned that we didn't have the foresight to grab all these pens, as they're not sold on the market, when these incredible pens ran out of ink. To this day, I can't find a comparable pen. 

The other issue of fountain pens is that it appears that Clairefontaine paper is the only paper that can truly take fountain pens with confidence, as other papers have issues of ghosting and bleeding, so you're stuck with only Clairefontaine and Rhodia (which has Clairefontaine paper but only at 80 gsm weight) notebooks, as the most accessible notebooks that you can buy online. There are other esoteric notebooks that have Clairefontaine paper, but hard to find. Further, both Clairefontaine and Rhodia don't quite have the style of Bullet Journal that I'm looking for, lacking many fun colors of other more "main stream" notebook lines.

The final problem is that fountain pens are outrageously expensive, some can cost a thousand dollars (?!??), so considering how easy it is to lose pens, I don't find this makes anyone comfortable to even use. I feel like I'd need it in a lock box at all times. For me, Fountain Pens are a bad idea!

Dark Souls 3 Progress
Being distracted by the world of Bullet Journaling, I've made minimal progress since last week. Since I'm really into journaling, I've been taking notes of all the items, so it certainly reminds me of my college days, and propelled me to write a review of the Getting Straight A's book. However, the note taking, though solidifying my memory, takes quite a long time.

Disgustingly Cute Pictures
I apologize for this short post, because I also have to recover from sugar overdose after seeing these pictures

The How of Happiness Review.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Getting Straight A's

GETTING STRAIGHT A's by Gordon Green, Ph.D. 
As school is about to start, I thought I should post a review of the BEST college "textbook" I've purchased, which is Dr. Green's Getting Straight A's. I never took high school seriously, most likely because it was free, and there's something to be said of having to pay for something that makes it appear more valuable. At any rate, when I started college, there was significantly less structure and less input on what is expected, as college affords tons more freedom, whereas high school tends to be spoon-fed to you. Therefore, I had no idea what I was doing, and wasn't doing well in my classes, which made me feel guilty as money was being thrown away.

I'm not sure how I came upon the book: if I found out about it after doing research, or if my friend showed me this book when we were both struggling with our classes, and told me how effective it was. At any rate, when we both read this book together, it was a complete revelation; light bulbs were turning on, and angels were singing. The reason why this book is so successful is for four reasons.

The first is that Dr. Green, being a psychologist, understands how professors think. The concept behind his system is that your professors are presenting their entire life's work and passion, and if you parrot back exactly what they say on your paper and exams, they will give you an A, if not an A+. I can NOT emphasize how true this is! Since you're validating and showing your appreciation of their life's work, of course they'll shower you with praise and best grades.

Further, it shows to them that you are paying attention to them AND are equally passionate (after all you're memorizing everything they're saying), which further strokes their ego, especially if you further ask them questions to clarify. When the tables were turned and I was teaching a class, it was so much easier teaching the same material to one particular class where the students were very enthusiastic who asked questions and were attentive, but extremely difficult and uncomfortable with another class where the students were not paying attention and were disinterested. I can't impress how much I appreciated the first class, and I actually complained about how awful this second class is to my friends. We all have biases, and if you're an enthusiastic and respectful student, and your grade hangs in the balance between B+ and an A, your professor may give you the benefit of the doubt and give you an A. I know I will because I would think that you've put in a lot of hard work into the class, and deserve the higher grade.

At any rate, one comment on one of my college exams, which made me giggle, is a theory I wrote, which was literally verbatim what this professor said so many times, and he wrote (underlining the theory in question), "This is so brilliantly put, I never thought about that!", which he obviously has. I was not surprised that I got an A+ on this particular exam.

The second reason why this book is so successful is that it doesn't take a lot of time to do the system. I did NOT follow exactly everything the author recommended, but I still got A's. I do remember spending 1 hour a day of work, maybe a little more over the weekends (i.e up to two hours a day on weekends). I remember that it was in fact just 1 to 2 hours because my friend and I were incredulous that her sister's boyfriend was studying "only six hours that day" instead of his usual 10 to 12 hours/day, as we felt there's no way we can possibly study for 6 hours, not to mention 10 to 12.

The way to go about memorizing verbatim:
  1. Do the reading beforehand, so you can follow what the professor is saying more easily. Attend EVERY single class and borrow notes if you're sick (or have a friend record the lecture as long as the professor allows for it) and take your own notes when you're feeling better.
  2. Sit in the very first row up front to prevent distractions, so you don't miss a thing. Take notes verbatim. Write down EVERY word that they're saying. I scored "Brownie points" when I missed something, and asked professors to repeat what they said. If you're still unclear, attend office hours to clarify things, which I abused.
  3. As soon as possible after class (preferably that very day, ideally in between classes if you have free time), write question on one side of index card, and then answer on the back side of the index card based on your notes.
    • Ex. your professor said, "The best game is Dark Souls 1".
    • Front side of index card: "What is the best game?"
    • Back side of index card: "Dark Souls 1".
As I'm beginning to actually hate Breath of the Wild (probably due to the undue, over-the-top praise that's making me gag), do NOT test the professor by being cute and writing down Breath of the Wild instead of Dark Souls 1. I believe students might think if they give out original, creative thought, the professors would "appreciate it", which they might, but they're not going to love these ideas as much as their own.

I'm not sure what the next details are, but if my memory serves me right, over the weekend, take all the index cards and memorize the answers. Do the reading for Monday. I believe you then take all the index cards, and memorize all of them a couple of weeks before the exam. Day before the exam, go over the cards again. Then spit out the exact wording on the exams and collect your A+.

The third reason why this book is so successful is that you don't have to be organized. I read other books of this kind to see if Green's book is truly the "best" on the subject, and when I read what these other authors advise you to do, it was so complicated that I need an organizational flow chart just to follow their methods! Envisioning myself doing this, I felt so overwhelmed and overwrought. They even discussed scheduling your hygiene while in college, which is ridiculous. If, by their methods, you don't have enough time so you have to schedule when to brush your teeth, you know they're doing something wrong.

The fourth and last reason as to why this book is the best investment you can make in college is that you DO end up learning interesting things with all this memorizing, yet you only spend at most 2 hours/day on studying, and you have the rest of the time to have fun (hopefully you don't have to work during college). So it allows you to have balance in your life as opposed to following ridiculous, convoluted organizational systems of the other books. By having a balance, you'll enjoy your college life.

I didn't have any issues with writing papers, but I believe there is a sizable section in the book that describes how to write papers successfully and efficiently that is a good idea to go through, which I believe I did back then, but I forgot the details.

There's also a sizable section on how to read effectively as well, especially with liberal arts majors, the professors often give way too much reading. If you're taking math and engineering courses, in addition to the above, Dr. Green suggests doing as many problems as possible, perhaps even more than required, until you perfect your performance. I did very well in my Symbolic Logic class because I did every single question on the software, well beyond the homework requirements.

This book can be used successfully in high school and college, but I think with the amount of memorization that's involved in law and medical school, the book may not be effective.

However, if you're a high school or college student, this book is a life saver! I know I tend to recommend borrowing books first and see if you find them helpful before buying, but in this situation, I would buy the book right now so you can read it before high school/college starts. Then, you can have the book with you during your school year to refresh and refer back to if you hit any stumbling blocks.

The How of Happiness Review

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Bullet Journal: Brilliant Organization System

Note: I've decided to make my most recent post the featured article to keep the blog up-to-date, but will include link at the end of my future posts of my How of Happiness review, due to the importance of being happy.

I was wondering why it was taking me so long to memorize the areas and all items of Dark Souls 3. And this is NOT necessarily what all the items are (except the important ones like weapons, armor sets), since it's hard to keep track between all the various titanite shards and soul items, but at least know that the items are there. Also, I wanted to memorize these areas to the point where I can envision them in my head, so not needing visual cues of the game. I was rehearsing on the top of my head, and my friend actually thought I was talking to myself because I was lonely! But that's the level of memorization that I would like to have, to be able to visualize the entire game in my head.

This goal is made easier with:
  1. The save/copy method (I found out that gamers call this save scumming), and I have already made save files for all the areas in question
  2. DieNoob's Youtube video 
  3. Dark Souls 3 Cheat Sheet, as it's often faster to read than to watch.
I found out that it's taking me so long to accomplish for two reasons. The first is being distracted, especially as there are so many areas, and there were some save files that I haven't made yet, so I bounced between memorizing, and then progressing with the save files.

But, even after completing my save files, the second reason is that I was struggling to memorize some of the areas such as Smouldering Lake, which I feel is quite complicated as there are three levels (Lake, the ruins area, and the top area where the Ballista is), and it's very maze-like. Also, I have to follow a very specific route to avoid the poisonous ghrus, and to get all the items in a safe AND efficient manner (i.e. least amount of backtracking).

Because of the struggles with memorization, I decided to channel my inner nerd, and to take notes precisely because of the daunting Smouldering Lake. Further, it would be nice to record other areas as reference as it would solidify my memorization.

Since I didn't have a notebook, and wanted a rather nice one (this is Dark Souls 3, after all), fueled by my love of stationary supplies, I confess that I got a Moleskine A4-sized, lined notebook (A4 has almost the same dimensions of American letter-sized paper).

However, I can see myself taking more gaming notes, and although the Moleskine is rather lovely, I'd rather not buy Moleskine after Moleskine, and find something more affordable but just as nice. It seems we're paying a hefty price for the name brand, after all.

Upon googling, "alternative Moleskine notebooks", the research was fascinating. First, I found that these serious journal users all slammed the Moleskine as the paper is supposedly awful for fountain pens and gel ink. For my normal ball point pen, there were no problems with ink bleeding through the paper, but it's rough and not smooth like the notebooks with Clairefontaine paper that these journalists swooned over. But what's way more fascinating with the research was the world of Bullet Journaling.

I may have been living under a rock, but I haven't heard of Bullet Journaling since organization is not my strong suit. But, since Bullet Journaling kept getting referenced over and over and over again in my research for alternative notebooks, I wondered why this is all the rage.  Especially, as I thought it was impractical, considering the samples I've seen--are all Bullet Journalists professional artists with perfect hand-writing and mastery of calligraphy?

It also seemed hoity-toity with journalists going into the pros and cons of esoteric paper products and fountain pens, made worse with them calling it BuJo for short. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the contradiction: given my perception of how much effort and time BuJo takes, I wondered why this is all the rage, AND, the contradiction that these same journalists stating that it was easy, and all you need is a notebook and a pen. So I looked more into Bullet Journaling.

Bullet Journaling was created by Ryder Carroll, but I couldn't find when BuJo became disseminated. This introductory site showed how easy it is to start one, and I appreciate the simplicity. In the past, the rare situations when I made to-do lists, it takes much longer to type in a to-do list app, and so much easier and faster to hand-write. Plus, it's annoying to click the box when the task is completed, as sometimes this doesn't get registered, whereas, when you complete an item in your Bullet Journal, you just cross over the dot, which takes less than 1 second.


Also, it's just easier to read and see everything on a piece of paper, and it's there for immediate viewing. Whereas, with electronic means, you have to click on app, and then click on the to-do list, and so forth.

In other words, I decided to use this system for Dark Souls 3 goals to keep me from getting distracted, and due to the BuJo format, it was easy to see what needs to be accomplished. It was also very satisfying to cross the dots, which is way more elegant than crossing them out, because you can see what you've accomplished.

BuJo Example: Dark Souls 3 to do list
Needless to say, my journaling is absolutely hideous compared to the BuJo gurus, but the beauty of it is that even with awful handwriting and crossing things out due to mistakes, it's actually very easy to read, and practical to use. Further, you can make it as simple or as elaborate as you want. Aside from the few rules of dot, x, <, >,  circle, and -- (dash), you can design it any way you want.

Even with this extremely simple list I wrote, you can see how a to-do list app can't even do the "memorize" part of the list. Plus, what if you want to doodle under "memorize". I'm sure there's an electronic form of BuJo, but I can see it having the same exact pitfalls of a simpler to-do list app.

I see BuJo as extremely practical and helpful on a day-to-day basis, but it can also unleash your creative side if you want to make BuJo your hobby, as its nature invites unlimited expression.


Common types of lined paper
Because of the bullet-nature of BuJo, I would recommend getting a book that has grid (organizes your indents) or dot grid if you want a more unobtrusive style. For me, given my messy, disorganized handwriting, the grid-style system makes more sense as it will give me more structure. For those who are more creative and want to draw, the dot grid style is a better choice. I would avoid the blank and lined style for BuJo purposes.

I admit that after reading about the Baron Fig, Clairefontaine, Leuchtturm, Rhodia, Semikolon, and other branded notebooks, I fell into the trap of materialism, as opposed to my original research intention of finding more cost-effective notebooks than the Moleskine. I was seduced by the Leuchtturm New Pink Master Slim A4+ notebook and the Clairefontaine A4 notebook with french-ruled paper.  I haven't received the 2 notebooks yet, but I wished the Leuchtturm had French-ruled paper, as it seems like it would organize my handwriting even better than the grid style. I'll post comparing the Clairefontaine, Leuchtturm, and Moleskine notebooks once I test out the first two.

I now understand the popularity of BuJo, as not only is it fun, but it helps organize your day and makes you feel accomplished, which is refreshing. For now, with the Moleskine, I'm taking DS3 notes of the areas, and then intermixed with BuJo daily to-do tasks. I haven't looked any deeper into BuJo aesthetics, but I believe since you can do whatever you want, you CAN have a bulleted to-do list using the x, circle, --, >, < method, and the next page, a free-style note taking section. It's not like you MUST follow rules to the exact letter.
French-Ruled Paper

Conclusion: BuJo is both practical and fun, so it's the best of both worlds. This is easier said than done, but don't fall into the materialism trap like I did! I would start with an inexpensive Staples spiral bound notebook, or one of those old-school composition books with dot grid or grid style paper. If you're really into Bullet Journaling and/or want a more "permanent" notebook, I would definitely look into the brands I listed above.





Sunday, July 23, 2017

Why I Hate Cooking

I never understood why people actually enjoy cooking and was dumbfounded, growing up, seeing so many people actually looking joyful cooking, sharing recipes and the like, with true enthusiasm.
 
I was even more skeptical regarding the true joys of cooking,  as no one really answers WHY they love the process. When people are asked on television shows why they love cooking, they all answer that it's "because we get to eat the food at the end", but never saying why the act of cooking itself is intrinsically fun. My rebuttal is always, "Well, I love eating food too, but I don't love cooking". I mean, who doesn't like eating?

Since that didn't lead to any answers, I then asked my friends why they enjoy cooking, and they note that it's addictive and soothing to dice the onions and garlic, which I can see it being meditative and fun. I'm assuming the chopping sounds and feel of dicing and the like is the same addictive feel that I get from combat sounds or the crunching sounds of my playable character walking in Dark Souls. The other explanation is that it's a chemistry experiment, and I remember the process of combining things in the lab was interesting (i.e. seeing the solution trickling and so forth). Lastly, my friends like the nurturing component of cooking, being able to be creative and use ingredients they prefer.

Therefore, as these are real answers that made sense to me, I felt that I was missing something vital, so I took a basic cooking class, focused on knife skills training, at my local school of culinary arts. I told the student chef-in training that I literally didn't know anything about cooking, and like most people, she thought I was over-exaggerating until she instructed me to sautee the onions, and I asked her "What's sautee?", and she had that OMG look on her face that was rather amusing.  

We then went over the differences between cubes, dicing, and mincing. This was not fun. I wanted to be able to cut the onion in those perfect, beautiful cube shapes, as the more uniform the shapes are (i.e. perfect cubes), the flavors get distributed more evenly. I think that's why Lebanese salads were a revelation, because all the ingredients are chopped in these exact cubed-shapes, so the dressing can be distributed evenly, leading to uniformity in flavors, as opposed to having one piece being drenched with dressing, and then the next lop-sided piece not having any dressing on it.

I then discussed with my instructor that it took me over an hour to dice a medium-sized onion, and she said I must be doing something wrong. Indeed, it was rather trying to spend this much time, tears running down my face, but nevertheless coming up with rather substandard, irregular shapes.

One can use the food processor, but the point is, I don't find using the food processor intriguing either, and in fact, cutting onions manually seems more fun, exactly due to the meditative nature of chopping. Furthermore, you have to do the boring job of cleaning the food processor.

After the effort, time, and the costs of all the ingredients, the food never turns out good. In fact, whenever I steam vegetables, they all come out rubbery that even my friend, who's a vegetarian and hates throwing things out, couldn't eat it, and we end up throwing the dish away.

That's where the problem lies. It's a waste to spend a lot of money (and a lot of the recipes end up having one ingredient, of which you have to buy a whole bottle's worth of spices, to never use that spice again), and if the food turns out bad, which invariably is the case with me, I end up throwing out the food, which is such a huge waste! For the same end results, to "save time", I might as well just burn a hundred dollars, and even that has the virtue of NOT wasting food that can feed others. I say hundred dollars, because a lot of recipes have dozens of ingredients that you have to buy all over again.


While it's true that anyone CAN be good at cooking, we just need to practice. However, by practicing, that means you have to spend a lot of money on ingredients, which will most likely go to waste, with one bad dish being made after another.  Do I really want to waste thousands and thousands of dollars and food (although we can possibly give the food to the birds) to see if I can be a good cook? I'd rather spend that money on paying bills.

The solution for me is to save money, prevent waste, and therefore NOT cook.  I sympathize with the comedian, Maria Bamford, when her friends tell her encouragingly that she can follow this simple recipe, but as soon as they give her the direction, "Preheat the oven", Bamford is like "Noooo!!". Those are my exact feelings, so whenever my friend keeps saying, "we can easily make that", I'm like "Noooo!!".

Conclusion: Those who love to cook and cook well are extremely impressive.

The Magic of Eternal Sonata

Beat, from Eternal Sonata
Eternal Sonata is one of those games that I felt was extremely under-rated and under-appreciated, receiving a rather low Metacritic score of 79, but nevertheless is one of my favorite RPGs. For me, the game is magic and has a lot of heart, and I'll try to explain why I feel that's the case. I loved this game so much that I believe I played the game at least 4 times through.

As a new gamer, I'm not sure how I found out about Eternal Sonata, since the usual games recommended tend to be the larger franchises, when I did research into what games are considered "acclaimed". I used the game consensus/lists of "top 100 games" as a guide to which games I should invest in. Eternal Sonata was never listed, unlike Final Fantasy VII, Ocarina of Time and so forth, sadly enough. It was out of sheer luck that I stumbled upon this game.

I believe I first played it on the PS3 as it was the definitive version that included new playable characters. I got the usual sad feeling when I complete one of my favorite games, that I was happy to see that the XBox 360 has achievements for the game, as there was no trophy support for the PS3. So I replayed the game again on the 360, and found the Xbox version easier in difficulty. I would recommend the PS3 version as it's a more challenging version that also includes 2 playable characters and 2 extra dungeons.

Polka
I was instantly hooked due to the presentation of the main protagonist, Polka, at the very start of the game. She's portrayed as an extremely sweet, compassionate, gentle soul, who's the dire opposite of a "bad-ass", so I laughed out loud when she so very violently whacked an enemy with her Umbrella (this is one of the types of weapons) as it was so out of character. I didn't expect such violence to come from such a kind character.

Aside from the hysterical levity of whacking enemies with a NON-bad ass Umbrella Weapon, the game-play has a challenging and unique system of being turn-based, but at the same time, having real-time elements. For instance, when it's your party's turn, your party member has a gauge that gives you so much time to make your move, which are attack, counterattack, guard, your special attack, and item use, that are keyed to your face buttons. After your move, your enemy attacks next, and so forth. You have up to 3 party members.

The game keeps you on your toes because as you gain Party Class Levels, which naturally progresses through gameplay, these increasing Levels give you more perks, but less time to input actions, so you have to get more skilled with timing your key combinations. If you build enough attacks in, you get harmony chains, in which you can unleash your art as the finisher. The levels go up to party level 5, in which the buttons for attack, counterattack and so forth actually change, which keeps you on your toes. It took me awhile to get used to the changing buttons, but once you reach level 5, you don't want to go back (you can lower your party level if you want to on NG+).

The other interesting game-play element is that certain special attacks can only be performed in shade or light, so there are accessories that you can wear that give you shade or light, so for Polka's incredibly overpowered healing art "Blossom Shower", she needs to be in the light, so I have the light accessory on her.

Because of the fun and varied gameplay mechanics that change through the course of the game, I do NOT run away from battles as they are fun mechanics which require mastery in timing, especially with the guard button. It's also addictive to build up harmony chains so you can unleash your special attacks, and I especially love Falsetto's poetic battle lines before she unleashes these strong attacks.

In addition to Polka, her party members are also very likable (except for Claves), my favorite being Beat, who's absolutely adorable and very earnest in his personality. I also found Falsetto to be an extremely compelling character as she owns up to her responsibility, and really chews out one of the villains in a heroic manner. I also appreciate how, despite practically all the women being in love with Jazz, they don't act "bitchy" or "catty" towards each other that gets tired and often repeated in these love triangles (in this case, love pentagrams?). The party members have great chemistry, one such example being Beat and Salsa's "rivalry" (this is all in Salsa's mind). Indeed, your party members have unique personalities, none of them are "bland".

The over-world is beautiful and colorful, and it doesn't drag out with long stretches of nothingness, as there's treasure tucked in, and you don't have to go far from dungeon to dungeon.  I don't appreciate RPGs where you have to travel very far through spaces of nothingness just to get to the next dungeon/point of interest. The dungeons have interesting and varied puzzle elements, that can be quite confusing and complex, especially the dreaded Fort Fermata. Except for that dungeon, they are well-designed and have impressive atmosphere. One such area was so atmospheric that it actually made my stomach turn and I felt nauseous (thankfully I didn't throw up) seeing my characters puke upon being poisoned.

The story is quite unique and deep; in fact, there are analyses written about the story plot. The story adds another compelling component to the game. Spoilers here.

The music is glorious. Since it features the music of Chopin, it appears that the acclaimed and prolific composer, Motoi Sakuraba, wanted to rise to the challenge of such a musical genius, and wrote what I feel is his best musical score--please note that the 1st track listed is probably the worst of the music, so please skip to the next tracks to get a better representation.

Captain Dolce
The villains are memorable, such as Captain Dolce, Tuba, Fugue, and the awful Rondo. I cheered when Falsetto blasted and chewed Rondo out. I know the critics mention that the villains are cliche, which doesn't make sense to me because they each have very different personalities. I especially love the interactions between Dolce and your party members, and how it's very easy for your party members to get on Dolce's nerves.

Finally, what adds to the magic and heart of the game is the beautiful and colorful artistic direction, with clear graphics.

I feel that Eternal Sonata's unique and compelling story-line that involves the composer Chopin, the dungeon design and atmosphere, the combat mechanics that keep challenging you throughout the game due to the Party Level system and timing required for guarding, the characters and how they have a lot of chemistry as a team, the humor, the incredible music and the whimsical, colorful art-direction, all add up to a magical experience.

Sadly, Eternal Sonata did not do well commercially, as Eternal Sonata 2 really needs to happen. In the meantime, if you love RPGs and want the "whole package", Eternal Sonata cannot be more highly recommended.

Now that I'm writing about the game, I'm thinking of holding off on finishing my Dark Souls 3 NG+7 run, digging out my PS3, and playing Eternal Sonata again!

If I do just that, I'll go more in-depth about the game, since I last played it was years ago, to further discuss why Eternal Sonata is so compelling.

Rating:  A+, Masterpiece.




Monday Musings 3

Dark Souls 3 Progress
I've only Grand Archives and Archdragon Peak to memorize, and made save files for those 2 areas. I'm debating whether I should also memorize the DLC maps and items. I'm leaning towards yes, b/c even though I don't quite like the DLC, I love the boss battles. Slave Knight Gael, our last ever SoulsBorne boss, is one of the best bosses I have ever faced, on par with Sir Alonne, Fume Knight, Ivory King, Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower and Martyr Logarius (note how all my favorite bosses somehow came from the SoulsBorne series). Furthermore, it's easy and quick to make save files for these DLC areas (i.e. I use a mule to level up my character in the 450s, lol), and it's my nature to be completionist. Once I memorize all these areas and items, the next goal is to get to NG+7 without using a mule, like I've done with DS1, DS2 and Bloodborne.

Knowing My Limitations 
Although I appreciate the sentiment, "Anything's possible", in gaming, I find that knowing my limits is important in some cases. As I was upset with the lack of sophisticated dungeon design in Breath of the Wild, I turned my attention to Skyward Sword as it has been noted to have some of the best dungeon designs of the series.

However, my friend kept telling me how bad the controls are, and that I should watch the game, which would count as completing the game, and clearing out the backlog. If that sounds unsatisfying to you, it was doubly so for me. Further, I thought he was exaggerating, because after all, I beat TWO Dark Souls 2 no death runs, pre- and post-patch 1.08, so I was feeling quite smug and satisfied. Lightning miracles were nerfed post-patch 1.08, so I completed a second no death run using a different, more difficult build. I thought that since I have the video game street cred with 2 no death runs under my belt, I won't have any problems with Skyward Sword.

Already the game hooked me in, because, yes I DID wonder why Link's bird isn't with him, so at least the game has an intriguing story. The first quest I did was returning a cat to his or her owner. Unfortunately, I dropped the cat which made me shriek, because it took me 10 minutes just to get to the cat in the first place, due to the extremely difficult controls. What that means is that I have to press, I believe, the trigger button, AND wave the Wii-Mote control around to move the camera to find where the cat is, at every step of the way.

What that made me realize is, how am I supposed to go through even more complicated areas if it's so difficult to move the camera, which is such a basic mechanic? I quit after 1 hour of struggling with the motion controls, but was proud that I was able to return the cat to the owner. After that experience, I feel that the best gamers tend to be speed-runners, and anyone who was able to beat Skyward Sword!

Crash Bandicoot--An Ophthalmologist's Nightmare
I was also intrigued with the new Crash Bandicoot trilogy remake since the marsupial is absolutely adorable and completely wild and zonkers. I thought, well even though it's a platform game, a genre that I tend to avoid, it has a story and Crash is a fun character, so it could transcend the genre like Ori and the Blind Forest. Further, everyone on Twitch was playing the game and it looked intriguing due to the bright colors and fun sound effects. 

Luckily, I saw DelinquentMuse play the game, and she was struggling during the notorious "High Road" level. I can see myself getting easily angered, dying and struggling so much, with the flute music taunting you. At the same time, that also spurred me on, that maybe I should accept the challenge. However, coming back to reality, I realize that if DelinquentMuse, who is one of those rare gamers who can beat those ridiculous Dark Souls SL1, no death challenges with her eyes closed, is struggling with Crash, that I don't think I'll be able to get through these levels.

I also learned from my Skyward Sword lesson to recognize my limitations, so I fought the urge to get this game, saving $40! Though, every time I peek at the game, the bright and fun colors kind of lure me in...hopefully I can continue to resist.

PS4 Controllers Revisited
Visiting with my friend, I was horrified when I realized I forgot to bring the Cronus Max so I can use the XBox One Pro Elite controller with the PS4. Upset, I was forced to use the DS4 and/or the Nacon Pro Revolution, a third party controller made for the PS4 that I gave to my friend after seeing how bad it was when I first got it. Trying to see the positives of this over-sight, I thought to myself, that this is all for the best since I can see if I exaggerated and worse yet, misrepresented to my dear blog readers, just how uncomfortable these controllers are. So it's good to verify if these controllers truly are as ghastly as I thought they were.

After adjusting to the controls of the Nacon, I thought, "this isn't that bad" and I appreciated how light it was, and how it has offset analog sticks, with the preferred left analog stick being convex with small circumference (so you can roll your fingers around the top of the left analog stick with more control), and the right stick being dome shaped.

Come to find out, after an extra hour of use, the Nacon became extremely uncomfortable and then intolerable. The problem with the Nacon is that the controller doesn't fit my hand shape, so it doesn't feel natural like the XBox One controllers. The other problem is that between the trigger buttons and where you naturally rest your index fingers, there's a vertical wall that forces your index fingers to be in one place, and one place only. Whenever your fingers are locked and forced into one position and ONLY one position (where there's literally no wiggle room), it becomes extremely uncomfortable.

Per Nacon, they said they received input from professional gamers, which they probably did, but also most likely didn't listen to them, or misinterpreted what they had to say, coming up with such an atrocious scheme. No professional or non-professional gamer, for that matter, would feel comfortable with this controller.

After experiencing discomfort, I then switched to the DS4. I also felt it was pretty decent and found that it was comfortable being light, and was wondering why I complained about it in the first place. However, after 30 minutes, the feelings I've had for it came rudely to the surface. Because it's made out of very hard, smooth plastic, your hands slide all over the controller, and the hardness of the controller felt like it was bruising my hand. This is in stark contrast to the soft, rubberized texture of the brilliant XBox One Pro Elite controller, the rubberized skin acts like a cushion, and the shape of the controller fits my hands perfectly.

The DS4's analog stick tops are the worst of BOTH worlds, neither being convex nor concave, but flat. The fact that the tops of the sticks are wide, you don't get the tight control of the more narrow left analog stick of the One controller.

The other major issue is that the sticks are symmetric, so the left analog stick is NOT near the L1/L2 triggers. The most used controls are the left analog stick and the left triggers, so you want to place them close together. The rationale is that your hand's natural resting state is your thumb and index fingers together, rather than forced apart in an awkward C-shape, which is what the DS4 left analog stick forces you to do. I'm sure you've never rested or seen another person rest their hands with their thumbs and index fingers forced apart in a wide C-shape?!??

I actually became angered and frustrated with Sony for making such a bad and cheap controller. First, they are getting all the exclusive deals for the AAA FPS shooters, and yet, they still cling to the symmetric controls layout. This is a fetish that Sony has to get over. If the PS5 becomes just as successful as the PS4, and Sony wants to monopolize all the exclusive FPS deals for the next generation, in order to truly become the King of the FPS, they MUST make the analog sticks off-set. For now, despite all of Sony's FPS deals, Microsoft still remains the King of the FPS.

Further, Sony needs to make the controller larger and shaped like the XBox One, which seems to fit all hand shapes and sizes. I have extremely small hands (significantly smaller than Donald Trump's), so I really don't know how people can even use the tiny DS4 controller.

If I were Sony's CEO, I would strike a deal with Microsoft that if I allow for cross-platform online play (which is what Microsoft wants), they have to allow me to make an exact replica of the XBox One Pro Elite for all future PlayStations. Further, the Microsoft engineers will further design the DS4 Elite (as I would call it) to make it lighter (and balanced if you want to add weights to make it heavier). Also, instead of micro-usb connection, make it mini-usb or lightning connection for more stability.

So, yes, my impression of the DS4 and Nacon holds true, they are both hot garbage!

Monday, July 17, 2017

The How of Happiness Review

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.

Maybe I have such a jaded attitude toward the iPhone 6 Plus, because I'm bored with it, and that if it breaks (so I don't really care if I drop it by accident), that would give me an excuse to get a new, exciting phone. But then, this new phone will get boring, and the cycle continues.

At any rate, this shows that achieving wealth and material possessions beyond the basic necessities, such as getting the coolest thing is very short-lived and un-sustaining, and doesn't lead to happiness. 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. Unlike the iPhone, no one ever has the thought of wanting new cats/dogs to replace your loved, old pets.

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





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