Sunday, August 20, 2017

Man, Fire Emblem is hard

Full disclosure: I mostly wanted to get my previous post ("Frustrated with the world") off the top of my blog without deleting it. But I have been trying to play Fire Emblem games since then, so hey.

Before I start, I want to link to Easy Mode Players Are the Real Gamers, because it's a fascinating train of thought and I really like it; I will allude to it later.

When a friend gifted me a copy of Fire Emblem: Echoes, I dove into it on Hard mode, figuring that I was seasoned enough that the "Normal" would no longer be a challenge. I've gotten comfortable enough with Awakening to zip through it on Normal with little resistance, right? At least, that's how I remembered it.

I think I remembered wrong.

I was able to manage Acts 1 and 2 of Echoes without feeling frustrated, but even with Casual Mode enabled (i.e., no units actually die), I still had several Game Overs on the ship maps in Act 2 and generally had to learn many, many times from my mistakes, even with a reasonably firm hand on the mechanics, stats (and what they're for), and basic strategies. I had to struggle with Act 3, a lot, but I persisted, because I was still able to achieve victory by adjusting my strategy; I never went out of my way to level grind and raise either army's stats.

Act 4 put a swift end to that. No more than three maps in for either army, I've hit a roadblock so insurmountable that even several hours of grinding has not enabled me to clear it. My units drop like flies as soon as the enemy is upon them, and all I can do is squirm until they finish off the leader. Occasionally I'll have the presence of mind to retreat before an actual Game Over, but by then I've wasted over an hour and most of my team has accrued hardly any experience for their trouble.

That's a lot of Necrodragons.

It's at this point that I'd like to just drop the difficulty to Normal-Casual and get on with it, because I want to see the rest of the story and try out some different maps. But I can't - not without starting a new save file and repeating all three Acts, which would take me about 30 hours of playing time.

(I've looked around in some places online, and found that many Fire Emblem fans claimed that Echoes was "easy", even on Hard-Classic mode. It's salt in the wound, I have to say.)

As I type, I'm level grinding again (thank goodness for the auto-battle feature), but I'm debating restarting anyway; I haven't made any progress in the game's story in several months. Guess we'll see.

(Other Fire Emblem titles that I started, got stuck on, and quit playing: The Sacred Stones (can't even clear the first map without a death), Radiant Dawn (somewhere in part 2, I think).)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Frustrated with the world

I spent a lot of time following the news on the events in Charlottesville, and things connected to it, and it sucks. White supremacists/Nazis are bad and I want them gone as much as anyone else. (Plus there's the tensions between this country and North Korea. Eeek.)

Right now I feel exhausted with it and I want to withdraw from the world for a while. Play video games and not have a care about the world, like I could do when I was very young.

I can't really enjoy myself, though. When I finally get some downtime, all I do is poke around on the Internet some more. Read more on peoples' reactions to all that's happened.

Also, a relative is being passive aggressive with me trying to get me to do self-improvement things. Even as I type this she's doing it, in the next room. Just makes me feel worse, and does nothing to help me want to do it.

Sorry. I know a lot of what I wrote up there is selfish. It's just a fraction of what's on my mind anyway. I'm not sure who to talk to about it.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

BNAA Case 3 is DONE

It took me six years, but I finished Case 3! You can read it here ( or here (Google Docs)!

Just one more case to write to truly finish the story ...

If you missed it, a year and a half before this post, I posted about this very story and linked the previous two cases here.

Hope you enjoy!

Friday, February 10, 2017

My ideal mobile phone

It doesn't happen often, but once in a while, I'll get into a discussion with someone else about things about our phones that suck, and what we'd look for in our next one. On a whim (and noticing I haven't written much lately), I figured I'd just list all the specs/features I'd want for my next phone, and why; hopefully this sparks some discussion!

I'd like to start, however, with what I already have: two Motorola phones. My daily driver is a Droid Turbo, and my previous DD was a Droid RAZR M, which I still have. (I have a handful other older and budget phones, but those were never DDs, so I'm ignoring them for now.) Respectively released at the end of 2014 and 2012, the Turbo is still going pretty strong and recently got an upgrade to Android 6.0.1; the RAZR M's final official OS is Android 4.4.2, and while I ran custom ROMs on it for a while (mainly CyanogenMod 12), I ultimately dropped back to the official 4.4.2 (with a patched kernel to address an audio bug) for stability's sake. Nonetheless, the RAZR M is showing its age, as the Google apps and services grow ever larger; free RAM is obviously scarce, and the older NAND flash just can't keep up with things like it was once expected to with a similar app loadout. But I still use the phone almost daily, for one reason: playing music. The RAZR M has a microSD slot, while the Turbo does not; consequently, I've loaded most of a card with music and have pushed almost all other duties exclusively to the Turbo.

Oh. My crystal ball tells me that you're thinking "too long, not reading". All right, fine, I'll move along.

So! My ideal phone.

  • Compared to the Turbo, I think shrinking the height and width slightly, while increasing thickness a tad, would allow for more effective one-handed operation (at least for my hands, obviously) while still potentially allowing for a 3500+ mAh battery.
  • A 720x1280 or 1080x1920 screen would be my ideal resolution. Anything greater than 1080p is just extra pixels that I'm not going to discern (there's barely any video content over 1080p and I'm not going to run games at their max graphical settings because that chugs battery power!) - plus it increases power consumption for little gain in daily use - and lower than 720p starts to enter "you can see the pixels without trying" territory - not that I mind seeing pixels, but it can be very distracting with various colors if the display is PenTile (see: the RAZR M) and makes small text harder to read. I'm not sure if I'd have the display tech be good ol' LCD, or OLED. OLED displays may have prettier colors and true blacks, but they degrade noticeably early on.
  • I'm torn between physical (or "physical") buttons over on-screen buttons - especially if the display would be OLED, since on-screen is just an extra spot for the burn-in effect to be noticed. I like the "physical" buttons on my Turbo overall, but it drives me a little nuts that they're forever stuck with the KitKat design and can't support adapting to context. On the other hand, they never vanish for Immersive Mode.
  • Direct OS support from Google, a la Nexus/Pixel. I'm sick to tears of the official firmware being years behind on my Verizon Moto phones, and Moto was pretty good about updates for a while! (I hate that I never got to use a Moto X or G before the company was absorbed by Lenovo.) I'd also like to see official support last for around five years - this is the one trait of Apple's devices that I envy iPhone users for (timely updates AND long-lasting OS support - at least, long by smartphone standards).
  • Android 7.0 or newer as the starting OS. A clean build with zero bloatware or carrier apps. Pure Google plus AOSP plus the necessary firmware/drivers.
  • A 3.5 mm analog headphone jack. No sale otherwise.
  • I know USB C is the future, but I kind of want to hang on to microUSB for just a little longer. I still have absolutely nothing that uses USB C, or even USB 3.0 (save for a couple of flash drives whose full potential I cannot use)! Plus I'd have to get an adapter for my dual-mode flash drives, and new OTG adapters, and ... ugh, I'll switch once USB C has proliferated a lot more, okay?
  • A microSD slot. I know it's a performance bottleneck, but I want to use one, mounted as a separate volume (i.e., as opposed to the new mode introduced in Android 6), filled with all of my music, some movies, and other content that's almost exclusively read, sequentially. The United States' mobile broadband has a long way to go before I'll even consider streaming as my primary means of consuming content. I will keep software on the internal storage, though - and with the increasing size of both the Google apps and many games, I think I'd want 64 GB as the minimum for internal NAND. Even 32 GB is just too cramped for me now.
  • Speaking of broadband, I'd really like full compatibility with all US carriers (and many carriers in other countries). Also, a pony, as long as I'm wishing. The current standard for LTE seems good enough that (on Verizon at least) I can make VoLTE calls almost anywhere I'd want to go.
  • 801.11 n/ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 or newer, though I imagine this hardly merits mentioning. Throw in NFC even though I never use it.
  • A freely-unlockable bootloader, or an official service that makes it fairly easy to unlock. (I guess it goes without saying that it won't be sold through Verizon.) This plus direct OS support would likely make custom ROMs well-supported by homebrew devs/enthusiasts.
  • A low-energy chip that helps the phone always listen for hotwords, screen on or not, without doing more than barely sipping battery power. The Moto X had this; and I've had the equivalent feature enabled for a while on my Droid Turbo, which I believe has no such chip, and I love it. I can bark commands at my phone while it's charging before bed, which is super handy when I'm asked to remember (to get) something for tomorrow. (My memory sucks.) 
  • An easily-removable battery - and I'd be okay with making the phone a little chunky to accommodate a biggish one (say, 3000 mAh or a bit more). I think one of the biggest problems with smartphone batteries in general right now is that they're all different - if phone manufacturers and battery makers could collaborate in the name of improving the customer experience, I bet they could come up with "universal gumstick"-shaped rechargeables and multiple phones that would accept these, in a manner not unlike what we have/had for devices that accept AA and AAA alkaline batteries and their rechargeable replacements. (I imagine doing this could, potentially, improve overall quality control and reduce costs for manufacturers and customers, since there wouldn't be so damn many battery models to juggle!) All of this would make it possible to make removable batteries much more practical for all parties, since customers would stand a chance of finding replacement batteries for their device in good condition without resorting to sketchy "el cheapo" third party equivalents, which often become the only option for older phones as parts stop being made by the OEMs. Phones could therefore be made to last longer, especially since the year-to-year power increase has flattened for now and makes buying a new phone every year or two hardly worthwhile beyond having a fresh battery inside.
  • ... man, I went off on a tangent there, didn't I. Oh well. Probably a pipe dream anyway, considering how much phones and many standard PCs are clearly designed to be disposable these days ...
  • Specs! To start, I'd really like to see 4 GB of RAM, maybe even 6. It's a lot for a phone now, but give it a few years. Devs are going to keep targeting "MOAR POWER", just as devs for the PC market did and do. And in the meantime, it'd let me shuffle through multiple programs ("multitask") like a champ.
  • A recent SoC, but not the latest-and-greatest. ARM CPUs and GPUs for phones seem to have gotten to the point where they're plenty fast even if you want to push some serious computing and/or gaming. The problem is that they all get too hot too fast to do that at top speed for any meaningful length of time, and thus the quest for more speed is wasted. Instead, I'd want a SoC that's about a year old for the phone's time (say, the Snapdragon 820), but tweaked and revised to consume less battery power and stay cooler at the higher clock speeds - plus, put some heat pipes in the phone to dissipate the heat even further. Avoid thermal throttling for as long as possible - that's what I'd love to have seen with even an older SoC, like the Snapdragon 805 in my Turbo. SO MUCH potential is lost because we (or SoC makers, at least) are too damn busy chasing faster theoretical performance instead of trying to squeeze out more speed - and better efficiency - in real-world usage.
  • A really good rear camera. (I'm not picky about the front camera other than that (a) there is one and (b) it's good enough for video calls.) I'm real fuzzy on technical specs for these, but I heard the Nexus 6P's camera was pretty good, so something like that I guess? Optical Image Stabilization would be very appreciated, and I wouldn't mind a camera bump if it meant good focal range, focus accuracy, and a high quality sensor. (12 MP would easily be fine, 15+ seems insane to me unless you're using a DSLR.) RAW support in the stock photo app would be nice, too; I like the camera app on my Turbo for the most part, just wish it gave me more manual controls. Also, I wonder if anyone is working on cramming in an optical zoom ...?
  • I really don't like how my Turbo's SIM tray is behind the volume buttons; IMO it makes them feel flimsier, plus I can't press both volume buttons simultaneously which limits what combinations you can do. I think the SIM+microSD tray that a lot of phones use nowadays is pretty cool. You know, the one with the pinhole that has a button inside? Seems better overall; at least it's less stressful than the push-push spring-loaded slots in my RAZR M. One slip of the finger and my SIM or microSD would go flying out of that.
  • Whatever microphone setup my Turbo is using, I'd want to replicate that. Voice recordings with a good recording program (I like Sony's) at lossless quality sound superb.
  • GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, lux, all the usual sensors.

I think that about covers it. If I forgot something, let me know and I'll add it in. If you made it this far (and didn't rapidly scroll down from the top to get here), thanks for sticking with me. Which details do you agree with? Which would you change? Sound off in the comments!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

I'm recording video games again.

Everyone and their mother is doing it, so I might as well rejoin the YouTube gaming community.

I'm preparing to do a for-fun race through Super Mario Bros. 3 against a friend, and I figured it might be neat to record the practice runs, as a test for recording the real thing (which we absolutely want to do). It's been a great learning experience so far, broadening my video production horizons and improving my skillset. Yesterday I bought a big strip of green fabric, so I can even utilize chroma key filters to add a face overlay, giving my recordings some extra polish.

Another game I've started recording is Donkey Kong Country 2, inspired after playing a Two-Player Contest run with a friend for a couple of hours. He'd never played 2 before that, so this doubles as a chance for him to look ahead at the levels from someone he knows.

The runs are here,and I'll be uploading one video daily (when I have a bunch ready) or ASAP after they're recorded (during a dry spell). I'll list the games I have in progress here and update this list as I go.

  • Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) (Run completed!)
  • Donkey Kong Country 2 (SNES) (Run completed!)

Games I'm considering running:

  • Doom (PS1)
  • Frogger (PS1)
  • Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (GB)
  • Bastion (Steam)
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail (Steam)
  • Space Grunts (Android)
  • PinOut (Android, hardware permitting)

Also, if you're new to recording video games, it's not particularly hard as long as you have some recent hardware, and it's possible to pay exactly nothing for the software.
For recording, I use OBS, which is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux but is currently buggy on Windows. I'm using Debian testing as my OS. Since I'm using emulators for the games, the only extra hardware I need is a webcam (which has a passable microphone) for video of me, and the green cloth to "green screen" that video feed.

Anyway, hope you enjoy the videos!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Nintendo Switch thoughts!

Man, the reveal of the NX - hereafter, the Nintendo Switch - was incredible. My mind is already racing with all the fun possibilities and I really hope that we get some more details soon!

But I have several thoughts I'd like to go ahead and write out. First, though: if you haven't watched the First Look video, do so now!

Done? Good.

Sooooo I'm hoping that the base will have a number of features that the tablets cannot, such as an optical drive (for backwards compatibility with Wii U software) and an included HDD (not just flash storage this time, please, Nintendo!), while keeping a respectable amount of flash storage on the tablet to hold a few downloaded titles (in addition to the cartridge, of course). Hopefully save files are always kept on the tablet, and/or automatically synced over the Internet.

I'm also hoping that there will be some sort of "starter box set" that includes the Switch as shown in the First Look, and standalone tablets (with a controller set) to accommodate additional family members. It'd also be great if the dock would allow any docked Switch tablet to use the software in the dock; maybe we could even "rent" downloadable titles from the dock?

I also really hope, if the Switch is designed to replace the Wii U and the 3DS family, that Nintendo makes a "mini" version of the tablet with the button controls built in (e.g., non-removable), so that we still have a pocketable portable system. If not, I guess we'll have to start hauling around our Switches in a tablet sleeve or book-sized carrying case once the 3DS family is phased out.

Speaking of which, I hope the battery life on the tablet is better than the 3DS family's - the OG 3DS in particular is painfully short in practice, even if you don't game that much. With my DS Lite, I can play in small bites and potentially not have to recharge the thing for over a week. (I wonder if the plane ride in the First Look is subtly addressing that question.)

I hope they keep - or even expand - the StreetPass and SpotPass features, too.

With all that said - I'm excited for this thing. I feel like my favorite feature (besides the natural benefits that come from the home and portable console being the same machine) is the fact that each "half" of the controller can be handed to a player for some simple, yet fun two-player (or even four, it seems) action! I'll be looking forward to having impromptu Mario Kart and Smash matches.

Have any of you thought of other wants/hopes for the Switch? By all means drop a comment below!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Short Thoughts on Fire Emblem: Awakening vs. Fates and emotional manipulation

I listened to some music from the soundtracks of Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fire Emblem: Fates a little while ago, and it occurred to me that while I look back (not that far, admittedly) on Awakening very fondly, I tend to feel a bit ... bitter when I think about Fates. The sentiment that usually comes to mind is based around a comment I saw on a gaming website: "'Fire Emblem: Pay For the Canon Ending'".

This got me thinking. For all the improvements we saw in Fates' gameplay features over Awakening, like the revised (read: less broken) Pair Up system and the multiplayer-friendly features like My Castle and actual PvP combat, the story (and some gimmicks related to it) feels like a step backwards.

Awakening, in my opinion, for the most part has a very generic-feeling story, but makes up for it with great characters (which the Support conversation scenes flesh out well) and decent pacing overall, save for the lull in the middle of the game. Meanwhile, Fates, in my opinion, tries too hard to make you feel for the characters, to get you invested in them and their struggle regardless of how naturally inclined you might be to do so.

I would go so far as to say that Fire Emblem: Fates is deliberately emotionally manipulative.

I mean, yeah, a lot of stories are to some degree, depending on your point of view. I don't think it's uncommon for a writer to stick in some sad lines or disastrous events to kick in the reader's empathy. But Fates hits the player hard and fast - most people will get to Chapter 5 within an hour or two, and we're treated to a fully-animated cutscene where a character very close to the protagonist - the player's Avatar - is killed by a sudden and brutal attack, courtesy of the Avatar's surrogate father, and the Avatar is filled with so much grief and rage that they transform into a dragon, right before kicking off Chapter 5's battle.

Awakening waits until Chapter 9 to pull its big death stunt (barring the opening cutscene, which carries different connotations because of the circumstances), which (as I remember) takes around 6-9 hours to arrive at, depending on difficulty. It gives you a lot more time to get emotionally invested in the characters and their plights. Plus, not every emotional moment is directly related to you, as the Avatar; the Avatar's role is more of a deuteragonist in this game (though it does shift a lot in the third act).

In contrast, every big scene in Fates is supposed to be tied to you (the Avatar) somehow. Your family from the house you sided against brand you a traitor. Your father of Nohr turned evil. Your mother dies. Your eldest siblings face you off near the climax.

On top of this, while Awakening gives what many consider to be a very satisfying ending, Fates leaves the player hanging if they play Birthright or Conquest.

All of this leads me to believe that Fates was written specifically to manipulate the player into feeling invested in the characters, so as to want a better resolution and pay for the other story paths. Indeed, the aforementioned "canon ending", Revelationcannot be played through without also buying Birthright and/or Conquest. You must spend $60 to $80 instead of the baseline $40, to get either a downloadable copy of Revelation's data or a physical cartridge with all three paths.

I don't know why Intelligent Systems went with this pricing path. Maybe they thought it was honestly clever. Maybe they knew they needed a way to give newcomers and old hands appropriate ways to enjoy the same world and wrote Revelation because they couldn't fit the necessary plot threads into the separate versions. I don't know. But what it feels like is that they tried out a different scheme to make some extra money that turned out to be just a little too transparent, and I'm less inclined to buy the next Fire Emblem as a result.