Blapril 2020 Results

Looks like I did it. Did 37 posts between Mar 29 and May 9 (inclusive). Including 30 posts in the actual month of April, one every day. Even if some of those were posted the last minute (I think one literally).

Not only were my posts frequent, but they were varied. Some were even about things other than video games! But all of it was about stuff I cared about, which is the important thing I think. That’s the point of this blog, after all: it’s my sounding-board to the world. And some other people read it, so that’s nice too.

Now, what for the future of the blog? I don’t know. Not just because I don’t know the future. But what will I care about sufficient to write about? I mean, there’s stuff I get heated about, but I’m not going to write about. I still haven’t done my Picard review, after all, and I’m still mad about that show. I do hope, though, that it won’t die, again. It’s not like I don’t have a lot of free time, even at work, to at least think of stuff to write about. So, we’ll see.

Unboxing Some Plastic

“This might look bad, but it’s alchemy! It’ll be fine.”

I used to collect a lot of anime figures. I just like collecting things that look nice, and anime stuff is just one of those things. This is the same reason I try to buy physical, at least with console games – they look nice on the shelf, after all. (Rarely bought pre-owned games at Gamestop unless they had the original case, because of that.) About three or so years ago, I stopped. Don’t know why, just lost interest. That was OK, because I had gacha games that could use those funds instead.

And so it went, until last weekend. I was browsing Twitter, and saw someone with a Breath of the Wild Zelda figure (the Nendoroid one). I just had to get one. So I go to the usual places, and look for her. Eventually I did, but not before seeing some other stuff I just had to have. Again, Nendos, so they’re relatively cheap, especially pre-owned (“used” just sounds so wrong in this context). Only trouble, these came from Japan. And with the corona going around scaring everyone, planes aren’t flying near so much. But DHL ships internationally still, and, while expensive, they are wicked-fast – shipped out Thursday morning, got to my door Friday afternoon. So, let’s take a look:

You always get an Amichan picture when you order from Amiami, which changes every month.
They always use so much packaging – sometimes these things can be rather fragile.

And there they are. You’ll notice there isn’t a Zelda – she’s sold out from Amiami, and the other Japanese sites I looked at.

They think it don’t be like this, but it do.

So I tried something I wouldn’t normally do: went to an American site. Turns out Tokyo Otaku Mode actually had some. The usual problem with American sites is that they are more expensive, and they have limited stock with big delays. To illustrate: the Zelda nendo I wanted came out in January, but TOM is only getting it this month. But because of that, they still had a few preorders open. So hurray for me.

Anyhow, these aren’t meant to be mint-in-box. They’re meant to be looked at! In the open air! (In fact, keeping them in the box long-term is generally bad.) I have a shelf for this stuff, and they’re going up on it.

Even the individual pieces on the already-put-together figure have plastic protection.
She must really like you to offer her burger like that…
I’m no photographer, especially with a phone camera.
The greater context…all blurry-like.

And thus ends Blapril 2020. Missed the last few days, but that’s OK, because I got all of April. And, I didn’t feel like it. It feels good to have accomplished something, even if it is something minor like writing a stupid blog post every day. I didn’t have the excuse of lockdown, but I did have a bunch of time, regardless. And I was able to break out into doing some different things.

My Bartle Test

Always one to feed the data collecting monsters, I decided to take a little test. This is the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, which makes an attempt to categorize gamers according to the picture above. It’s an old test, designed to classify MUD gamers. But it still holds up, as it’s so basic. It’s also short, which is nice.

And I think it’s pretty accurate. I’m always one who takes it easy, trying to go at my own pace. I don’t care about competitive parts of multiplayer games at all. If I ever even bother with pvp, it’s usually to get some reward (or do some exploration – like Cyrodil in ESO) that can only be done in pvp modes. But I don’t really care so much if I don’t get some shiny if it will be a pain to get. Just walking around, that’s good stuff though. Especially if it uncovers some lore or other cool thing.

Crusader Kings II: AAR Part 5

When we last left of, King Ulitis had died immediately after starting a war for Bryansk, the last of the Romuvan holy sites. While he started out as “The Wise,” apparently he got worse as time went on. I mean, look at that epitaph. So, now we have King Prusas; and, as noted above, he’s a great military leader. He isn’t too bad in the other areas either, but his martial is through the roof. Which is funny, because he’s a fatty. I guess he’s more of a general than a fighter.

Taking advantage of his skills, he starts a war again, for Bryansk (when a ruler dies, any wars they started over personal claims end). This is going along swimmingly, when someone sneaks a snake into his bed and kills him. Should have checked under the sheets there. He lasted a couple weeks over a year. Next up is another fellow named Nomedas. He, however, is a bit of a loser.

Not only were his stats bad to begin with, but he also is infirm. I predict a short reign, but we’ll see. However, one doesn’t need spectacular stats to win wars that were already being won, which he does, which leads to Prussia (and the Romuvan faith) gaining the last holy site. Well, second-to-last, since at some point one of them was inherited by some other kingdom. But this is definitely a start.

Nomedas decides to put all of his remaining efforts into war-fighting, and goes to town. He manages to be successful in most everything, which gains him the very appropriate title of Tenacious. However, being successful while being weak doesn’t paint any less of a target on his back, and one of his dukes challenges him to a duel. Of course Nomedas can’t accept, which isn’t a good mark on his record.

-33 vs 82 personal combat skill? I’m sure that would be fine.

Even though Nomedas is now officially a coward, he still keeps trucking on, keeps on the conquests. The world is going crazy around him, but he’s just going to be fine. Even his queen dies, and he gets a good young one – who he gets pregnant! Alas, his infirmities catch up with him, and he dies after an impressive rule of nine years as an old cripple. Maslaw is the successor.

Maslaw is a mighty man, a smart fellow, and a skilled diplomat on top of it all. He continues with the multi-generational plan to organize the Romuvan faith – conquering territory in the name of religion, regaining holy sites, all that business. He also joins the warrior lodge, as one would expect such a mighty king to do, and quickly moves up the ranks. Alas, at some point the northern (and quite powerful) duchy is either inherited by, or inherits, the kingdom of Pomerania, which not only takes off a huge chunk of the kingdom, but also loses Romuva one of the holy sites. Fortunately the territory is still run by Romuvans, which means the religion’s moral authority doesn’t take a huge hit. Poland eventually either conquers that kingdom, or inherits it, which means Prussia has Poland on three borders, and can’t just conquer the territory back.

To make matters worse, at the relatively young age of 57 Maslaw becomes infirm, a once-mighty warrior brought down to bed. But he doesn’t waste his time: he becomes a renowned poet. And he doesn’t let off leading wars, nor does he stop improving the kingdom. However, his conditions worsen, leaving him totally senile a few years later. This is of course unacceptable, and despite his incredible luck, he’s eventually assassinated by those that want the kingdom to prosper. Before Maslaw was incapacitated, he nominated a good successor in Arelis.

Tales of Zestiria: First Impressions

I’ve put in a few more hours into Tales of Zestiria, and have some thoughts about it. To put it short: mixed reaction, though mostly positive.

I’ll start with the negatives:

  • The combat system is different from other Tales Of games. Much simpler, at least with the normal attacks. It might just be that I’m playing on semi-auto, though; perhaps manual would make things more like normal? But I’m pretty sure I’ve played semi-auto in all games before this, and it wasn’t the same. (But maybe I was playing on manual this whole time, and just don’t remember.)
  • This isn’t really specific to this game, but I’m going to mention it anyways: I hate how the Select/Cancel buttons are reversed between Switch games and other games. I kept messing up when I was playing Switch games, and now that I’m coming back to the standard controller config, it’s messing me up again. I know I could remap the controls (in either case), but I’m not going to give up that easily, dammit!
  • Again, not specific to this game, but not having a screenshot button on the controller is annoying. I have no shots from the first three hours of the game. More specific to this game, the cutscene text auto-advances, so I have to have good timing with screenshots, which is harder when both of my hands are on the controller by default, and under a blanket at that, while my keyboard isn’t.
  • This is a typical jrpg pc port. Or, in other words, poorly done. It’s pretty badly optimized, and I have noticeable framerate drops, despite my good rig. Also, the ingame Vsync just plain doesn’t work – had to use the graphics card settings to get rid of some of the worst screen tearing I’ve ever experienced.
  • The localization is questionable. I really hate it when translators make the dialog more snappy. I know there are times when a straight translation doesn’t work, but you don’t need to completely rewrite 3/4 of the lines. When even a babby-tier Japanese-knower like me can tell so much is wrong, there are problems.
  • The mentor character Lailah mentions that just how everything will turn out depends entirely on the actions and choices of the hero. This implies that the player will have choice in how things proceed. However, this is a Tales Of game, which don’t exactly have a history of player agency in the story, to put it mildly. I seriously doubt that will change with this game. Not that linearity is a problem in itself, but the implication that player story agency might be present is.
  • Sorey looks really weird. I initially thought that was going to be the artsytle, but no, it’s just him. He’s got this tiny head with weird facial proportions. He looks kinda like an alien, to be honest.

And now for the good:

  • The scene where Sorey becomes the Shepherd is probably one of the most epic (in the true sense of the word) “taking the mantle of the hero” scenes in vidya that I’ve seen. It’s properly hyped up, for one – usually that scene just happens with little fanfare (see: Link pulls out the Master Sword in most Zelda games). But here there is a lot of buildup right from the opening narration. Not only that, but there’s a whole crisis surrounding it, with a lot of witnesses – usually this stuff happens when the hero is alone, or with his party only. The music is great for the scene. The stakes are explained (albiet in a melodramatic dialog during the middle of the crisis), and the character is properly heroic. And then resolves the crisis, everyone looking at him carrying the saved person on his shoulder (holy messianic imagery batman!). I know my explanation makes it sound rather overwrought, but trust me, it’s great (in fact, it’s the reason I wanted to make this post). I think the only similar scene that comes close (that I can recall) is Link pulling out the Master Sword in Breath of the Wild, and it’s not particularly close.
  • I actually like all the characters so far, especially the MC. Sorey is without guile, but not naive. He’s perceptive and smart, despite coming off like the foolish protagonist; but he’s not some secret genius either. He’s optimistic without being idealistic. He’s so far making the typical new hero mistakes, alongside the typical youthful male mistakes, but he’s not prideful, and is willing to own up to it. A real breath of fresh air, compared to similar jrpg protagonists (especially in the Tales Of series). Mikleo is a truly good brother character, despite the Elf/Human dynamic.
  • I really, really like the music. Even walking along a path has bombastic orchestral music. Reminds me a lot of FFXII, to be honest. Not quite that good, but with that mindset.
  • The girls are really cute. Shame they aren’t the main characters.

The world they’re building is already pretty not-good – the government is corrupt, the church is corrupt, everything is going to hell. I wonder what the big dramatic Tales Of twist is going to be. I don’t see how they’re going to pull the “angels are really the bad guys!” thing here. And they’re already hinting that the Shepherd business isn’t all it’s made out to be, so I doubt it’s going to be something along those lines (though maybe that’s how it’s going to tie into the sequel). I guess I’ll see.

It’s still technically Blapril until the 9th.

April and May

April turned out to be a more exciting month than I had anticipated. Stuff actually happened. Well, stuff to blog about, at least. Real life stuff didn’t really happen much at all. And not just because of some silly shutdown. But that aside, yah, stuff.

  • Of course we had (still technically have, I suppose) Blapril. What a good way to get back in the saddle for blogging. I made it a goal to write something – anything – every day. And look what happened:
  • Yep, actually got writing every day for a month. That calendar didn’t even look that way with Blaugust. (Part of it was because I didn’t have my blog time set to the correct time zone…) The posts might not have been of the highest quality – I’m not a writer, and I don’t actually write outlines or drafts or any of that stuff proper writers do – but they are there. I didn’t even get blogging fatigue (other sorts of mental fatigue, sure, but not from blogging). I’ll call that a win.
  • I finished a game. An actual game that has an end, and I reached it! Finished Breath of the Wild. Such a good experience, one of the best I’ve had in gaming in a long while.
How does Link always get the fish cuties?
  • I also started a couple new games: Fire Emblem Warriors, and Tales of Zestria. I beat the main story of FEW, but that’s not saying much – it’s only a few missions, actually kinda disappointing. And the side mission mode doesn’t look nearly as engaging as its equivalent in Hyrule Warriors: it doesn’t look like you unlock new weapons or characters this way, at least not without buying the DLC (which I won’t). Might be wrong about that though, haven’t looked into it. Berseria I just started, only got an hour or two so far.
  • Got back into Dragalia Lost a bit. Not sure why, maybe just hyped from the new story, event, and now FEH collaboration. But for my other “regular games,” I’ve all but given up on Princess Connect – I didn’t play during my week of vacation, and lost all momentum, and thus my motivation for playing. Granblue Fantasy is in a similar state, though at least I can read the new stories each month. ESO is basically login once a week. STO even less, if there’s no event going on.
  • I also got back into Crusader Kings II. Got the dlc, started a playthrough, started an AAR. I looked on Steam today, and I’ve played 40+ hours in the past two weeks. And it’s all been in one game. Also did a bit of Hearts of Iron IV, but that wasn’t too exciting.

As for next month, I don’t know, as usual. Of course I’m going to continue with Tales of Zestria (might blog about it, not sure). I’m looking to get another Switch game, but with shipping and logistics being what they are, I’m not sure what I’ll get. Kinda thinking Luigi’s Mansion, or maybe Xenoblade. Could do Rune Factory 4 as well. I’m thinking of taking another vacation (that was soooooooo nice), but I don’t want to eat all my vacation time on myself, before being able to visit family…but I also don’t really want to visit family either.

Pointless Armor: A Rant

I think it should be pretty clear what the purpose of armor is: to defend oneself from the attacks of another. However, in many fantasy works, particularly video games, armor doesn’t seem to do that, not really. I’m not going to complain about fantasy armor designs here, nor about armor-as-fashion. I’m talking about armor that literally does not do what it’s supposed to: protect the user from attack, even in the areas it covers.

And again, this rant is inspired by the current event in Granblue Fantasy. (Major spoilers for the one person in the world that cares about the game and hasn’t played the event yet.) At one point, the character shown at top, Polaris (who is a general-champion, of course) catches up with the enemy prince (who is also a general champion, despite being the usual spoiled evil useless brat prince character). Being a good person, and not overconfident, she gets the upper hand. But the prince uses one of his own soldiers as a shield, which is just enough of a distraction that he is able to kill Polaris. So far, so good, typical use of a friendly npc death to raise the emotional stakes of the story. (I don’t like it – it’s yet another instance of FKHR’s war on non-human characters in this game – but it works dramatically.) And it’s not like Polaris is particularly armored – the only really effectual piece would be the breastplate, and even that’s low, and a stab in the side is completely unblocked.

No, the trouble is how it came. That fellow above was the prince’s human shield. Who the prince ran through with his sword, to get to Polaris. This guy actually has proper armor on his torso. A sword would have to go through at least one point in his armor, if not two or more, to get to the potato. Unless that is quite shiny cardboard armor, that’s just not going to happen. If that’s how it is, why even wear armor at all? Just be like Dancho, who runs around in a short dress.

That was what ticked me off this time, but it happens all the time. How many cutscenes do we have of boss-type people who just clear out armored mooks with just a flick of their sword? How often to players go up against heavily armored enemies, which just seems to mean that they have a bigger HP pool, or perhaps slightly lower chance to hit?

And of course this goes beyond games. The recent Witcher series, among many examples, is terrible with this. One scene in particular, that shows up a lot in reviews (and maybe even the trailers? I don’t remember) just turned me off to the whole show: Geralt is in a big battle, and armored guys are taken out just as easily (and thoughtlessly) as the unarmored peasants in another episode. And even in space, armor seems to be mostly useless: what is the point of stormtrooper armor, if even teddy bears with sticks and rocks can take them out?

The thing is, armor protects, and generally quite well, if it’s well-designed. Otherwise, people wouldn’t use it. Even a thick jacket can protect against sword slashes, let alone proper armor. Those armored knights weren’t quite invincible, but they were juggernauts on the battlefield, which is why they prevailed for hundreds of years. Armor is only ditched when it’s ineffective. So why don’t we see that reflected in games? In movies?

General Champions: A Rant

It’s often a thing in RPG’s, and fantasy in general (especially anime) that the officers are warriors like the soldiers, just +1 for every rank. So your grunts are basically cannon fodder, while your generals are basically armies in themselves. Not just the special heroes (or villains), not just the player characters, but just regular generals.

I have no idea how this became a thing. Maybe it’s from ancient myths, where the leaders (usually princes or kings) were heroes, generally at least a descendant of a god distantly, if not directly. Basically, these guys were already great, so they deserve the power and wealth that comes from being great. And being great and powerful, they are nobility, and naturally have men at their command. I guess that would make sense.

A game where generals and rulers are definitely not Heroes.

Especially when you consider that the officers in the old armies tended to be the nobility. In the feudal systems (which most fantasy is based on), the bulk of men for armies would be provided by the various smaller-scale rulers, as armies are expensive, and food needs to be grown. Even as full-time armies became more common, military leadership continued to be a thing for the rich, especially for non-inheriting sons: education to become an officer is expensive, and sometimes spots were explicitly paid for.

But while those officers might have been nobility, they weren’t more proficient at actually fighting, generally. Knights might have been, but again, they had the money to train, and to get special equipment. And a knight wasn’t necessarily a general, or even a high-level officer.

So we have these generals in fantasy (and sometimes sci-fi) that are supposedly great at fighting. Not just great, but often super-human. And of course they are going out to the front, if they even have an army at all, to be the boss after a bunch of mooks.

But that’s not what generals do. That isn’t what all but the lowest-ranked officers do. Generals stay back, and plan. They lead. They command. None of those things require the generals actually to be up in the thick of things, and indeed are actually counterproductive to their jobs. Sure, the general needs to be close enough to see what is going on, but too close, and that vision becomes both too narrow and too unclear.

They’re called judges, but it’s the same thing.

If these powerhouses are going to be officers (because mooks always follow a strong leader), they should be low-level, like a Lieutenant or a Captain maybe. These are officers that would be up at the front, doing the fighting. It would also give them a significant amount of authority, in the immediate area.

But such a low rank just wouldn’t do for a significant adversary for Our Heroes, now would it? The villain should be someone Important. And therefore they need an important rank. General would do. I almost think that these characters are powerhouses just so that, when the heroes defeat them, the battle is effectively over: without a general, the evil army just retreats.

Even when the general (or ruler) is in the rear where they’re supposed to be, they’re still a boss. Often one of the last bosses. It’s like, Our Heroes fought all this way, through waves and waves of mooks (or went around them), and now they face the real challenge. But why would you hold such an effective warrior back? I can see holding resources back, only spending them as needed, but as soon as the mooks were getting beat, the strong people should have been sent straight out.

The thing that set me off today was the most recent Granblue Fantasy event. The girl at the top (Shura) isn’t even really an officer, she’s a tactician. A brainiac, not supposed to fight. Yet she’s right there with Dancho (who, ironically in this case, is a strong fighter that isn’t in a leadership role in the army) fighting the big boss at the end – said big boss who cuts down mooks like they weren’t even there, who can literally dodge bullets (oh, and he’s also an enemy general). But she’s not the only one – every general in the story is a great fighter, such that the mooks all stand around and watch them fight each other. The rulers, same deal (the young king on the Good Side, and the young prince on the Bad Side). Even Shura’s little sister, who isn’t special in any way besides being the big bad’s girlfriend (a fact the story points out several times) is still leading a decent-sized force.

But obviously not just Granblue Fantasy. Just out of games I’ve played recently, Dragalia Lost does this. Fire Emblem is basically this idea: the game (though to be a little fair, many of them are Heroes in the Greek sense – but not anywhere close to most of them). It’s a thing in ESO. Heck, you could name most any JRPG. Even in STO, the player character is Grand Admiral Awesomepants Death Machine.

What Game Do I Play Tonight?

I just don’t know what to play tonight. Or most any night. It’s not too often that I actually have plans going in, when I’m between games. Sure, technically I have a ton of games I’m currently playing, and a bunch on the backburner, but what to do tonight?

Well, you might say that I should continue that game that I’m actually blogging about right now. And I certainly could do that. It’s not like I’m burned out from it. Quite the contrary, I really like it, and I like the playthrough I’m doing right now. But the problem is that I like it too much. It’s just the nature of CKII that you lose track of time. The usual “one more turn” issue, except there are no turns. I don’t think I got to bed before 5am last week while I was playing. I kinda need to sleep before work.

What about getting rid of some of that backlog? OK, sure. But which backlog? A completely new game? A game I’ve started but haven’t even gone a single playthrough yet, before getting distracted by whatever shiny new game comes up (true fact: yesterday I went to Walmart to look for a new Switch game, though didn’t end up getting anything)? Something else?

And what about the mmo’s? Whatever happened to ESO, that I was playing every night? Thing is, I’ve kinda gotten bored with that. Not enough to cancel my sub just yet, but I’m certainly thinking about it. I’ve just hit a plateau there, in terms of what I can do to advance, and I’ve lost any motivation to go forward. Not with all those shiny new games!

How about actually watching those anime? The ones that I’ve been downloading every week, totally with the intention of blogging about, but haven’t actually watched yet?

I don’t even know. Choice paralysis and all that. Maybe I’ll even go to bed early. But you won’t know about that.

How To NOT Do Holograms: Star Trek Picard

Among other, much more important things (like story, characters, dialog, etc.), one of the things that really bugged me about Star Trek Picard is how the show uses holographic interfaces. In short, it’s bad. Like, really bad. I know what they were going for: “This isn’t your daddy’s Star Trek; this is the future now.” (Implicit in the statement is that it isn’t for Daddy, ie the people that actually are Star Trek fans (the average age for Trek conventions is…not as young as anime conventions, to put it gently), but that’s besides the point.)

Now, not everything they do with holograms on the show is bad – just most of it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having Picard’s room on the ship, where they had the “conference” scenes in the first part of the show, be a holographic recreation of his office on Earth (and the fact that it lets the show reuse the set is a bonus). The whole point of the holodecks in the show was that you could do that kind of stuff. Heck, they could have had the whole bridge be a holographic bridge. Probably should have done that, actually, instead of what they did (and they should have kept using Picard’s room for conferences later, instead of the park tables of later episodes). The bridge set was already pretty similar to Voyager’s or DS9’s holodeck sets; I kinda expected them to go that route, at first (especially since they already have a holographic crew…).

No, where they go wrong is everything else. Look at that. Looks cool, right? Well, it’d suck to actually use it. Look how dim it is. Compare that to, say, Mass Effect:

Easy comparison to make.

A proper interface would be easy to see. In STP everything would be hard to see. In ME the interface is bright, easy to see. And it’s got a dark background, while STP has whatever is behind the hologram, every time. Which is usually something not much darker than the hologram itself. How are you supposed to read anything like that? There’s a reason ereaders and phones these days have high-contrast modes.

Also, specific to the interface used for piloting the ship, that interface tracks head movements. But you’ll notice that it’s a lot larger than a human’s field of vision, let alone the useful field of vision. Remember, the useful field of vision for anything like this is only a few degrees, not even five. If what you’re looking at is only a little bigger than that (like a single computer screen), you only have to move your eyeballs, but if it’s as big as Picard’s interface up there, you have to move your head. Not a huge problem…unless it tracks with head movements. This is shown multiple times in the show (including that above scene) – this would be supremely annoying to use. And of course the center part is completely empty of information, despite the fact that that’s exactly where you’d want to put the most important stuff.

A hologram inside a hologram…

Of course, the reason this was done was purely because it “looks cool”. Sure, the interface makes absolutely no sense from an actual human perspective. But you don’t need “tacky” flat screens, no touch screens that need to be on-set. You can just film the actors waving their hands around, poking at the air, and then try to make what they do make sense in post. It’s yet another example of modern Trek (and Hollywood in general) not thinking things through, but merely doing what is cool and easy.