Fantasy Guidance
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 March 2014, 11:29 am
I wanted to take a chance during this break between games to talk about strategy guides.  I've been using them a lot lately.  The JRPG genre in general tends to have more use for guides than other genres and Final Fantasy is no exception.

I've used a strategy guide for four out of the five games I've played so far.  The game I did guide-less was FFIV.  I actively needed the guides for the other games.

That's the sad part, guides are basically a necessity for so many of these games.  It's really easy to get stuck in the early Final Fantasy games.  There are sections where the only option would be to wander the world aimlessly searching for hours... or look at a strategy guide for five minutes.  I will almost always choose the guide at that point.  Not to mention how easy it can be to get stuck somewhere and not be able to go back.  In a few places it's a very real possibility that you can get stuck in an area that is too high level for you.  And if you saved your game there and don't have a backup save you can be entirely screwed.

The iOS versions have gone a long way toward making it less possible for a player to get stuck somewhere with a bad save spot.  Although, they don't do much to help guide the player in the aimless wandering situations.

One of the reasons I loved FFIV so much was because it did such a great job of guiding me from place to place.  It did such a good job that I never needed to look at a guide.  This is one of the other places that FFV didn't live up to it's predecessor.  I was confused about where to go next a number of times.  In FFIV I always felt like I knew where to go, but I still had freedom to explore the world.  I didn't have to go to the next plot point immediately.  It wasn't linear and confining.  The main path was just well defined by the story.

Here's the way I've been approaching it.  I start a game and just play.  If I hit a spot where I get confused, lost, or feel like I could potentially miss an important item or character I'll look at a guide.  If looking at the guide gets me back on track I ignore it again and just play.  If I have to go back to the guide a second time... I find one that I like and commit to using it throughout the rest of the playthrough.

In case you're wondering, I've been using fan created guides on Gamefaqs.  Most of the time these are actually better than the "official" guide because they've had years to improve on them and find out secrets about the game.

I'm about to start FFVI.  I'll start without a guide but will probably end up using one.  From what I've heard, this is a Final Fantasy game with a lot of characters and I don't want to miss any of them.


Final Fantasy V
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 March 2014, 1:11 pm

Final Fantasy V was ok.  I finished it, but I wasn't inspired enough to write about it while I was in the middle of playing.  That should probably tell you something about how I feel about the game.  It was fine.  It wasn't bad.  There is no single thing I can point to and say "I hated this."  But, overall, it simply didn't click with me.

The story is perfectly serviceable.  It had semi-interesting characters, multiple worlds, Cid, Moogles, Chocobos, an airship, and an evil villain.  Exdeath, the big bad of this game, even had a more complicated plot than "destroy the world by destroying crystals."  Not much more complicated, but at least it's a step up from FFI, FFII, and FFIII.  The story was definitely better than those games.  My biggest problem with it is that it just isn't as good as FFIV.  It feels like a step back in terms of storytelling quality.



Maybe that's my overall problem with FFV.  It's not as good as FFIV.  FFIV did so many things in new and interesting ways and it executed a fantastic character driven story.  FFV is, no question, better than I-III but it doesn't reach the level of FFIV.

It doesn't help that I had played Bravely Default immediately before starting FFV.  After playing both games it's obviously that the job system from FFV was a direct predecessor to the job system in Bravely Default.  The problem is that Bravely Default improved on the job system by leaps and bounds.  It made it much more interesting and engaging.  So, for me, the job system in FFV felt dumbed down and shallow.  I'm sure it was revolutionary for it's time, but it doesn't hold up today.

The battle system is nothing to write home about.  It's a classic Active Time Battle (ATB) system like many Final Fantasy games.  I think I'm learning that I like turn based systems better.  But that comes down to personal preference.  The best part of the battle system are all the abilities different jobs gain access to, but most of the interesting decisions and customization is actually done outside of battle through the job system.



I'm not a huge fan of the graphics in this game.  I played the iOS version, just like I did for the first four games.  That might have been a mistake.  I really didn't like what they did with the remastered graphics.  I think I would have preferred the original pixel art instead.  I've heard really good things about the GBA version, so if you're looking to try this game out you may want to look there.  It fits with my common theme here today, the graphics weren't bad, they just weren't as good as the other remakes I've been playing lately.  Although, graphics come down entirely to personal preference.

As far as the iOS version in general, it was still fantastic to always have the game with me wherever I went.  I'm not sure what I think about them adding achievements to the game.  It's something they also did for FFIV too.  I guess it's fine, I just don't know how much it adds to a JRPG like this.  On the plus side, they added a battery indicator and a clock docked to the top of the screen (check out my screenshots).  I actually really liked this addition. When I was playing FFIV I was constantly hitting the home button to check the time and with FFV I didn't have to.

What else can I say about FFV?

I'm glad I completed it.  I'm happy that I haven't broken down and skipped a game in the series yet.  My review makes this game sound a lot worse than it is.  I would still recommend it over FFIII without hesitation.






It's not a bad game.  I think a lot of people would like it.  It's just not a game that I truly enjoyed.

Total Play Time: 26 hrs 42 mins


Bravely Default Review
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 March 2014, 8:09 pm
I've been taking a break from Final Fantasy games to play through Bravely Default, a new release for 3DS.  I just finished it up in the last few days and wanted to get some thoughts out there.

Honestly, this is the best Final Fantasy game that has been released since XII.  It's really funny that this isn't truly a Final Fantasy game.  I can definitely tell that it started out as one.  The job system, crystal story, items, and spells are all taken, almost directly, from Final Fantasy.  It started out as a sequel to Final Fantasy Four Warriors of Light but at some point in development it got to break away and become it's own brand.  Maybe that's why it's so good, because it doesn't have the weight of the Final Fantasy name on it's shoulders.

I love, Luxendarc, the world of Bravely Default.  Everything from the art direction to the music is top notch.  My god, the music!  I haven't enjoyed a game soundtrack this much since I played Final Fantasy X.  And the art department certainly earned their paychecks.  At times it feels as if you're wandering through a stylized storybook.  Other times the world is dark and imposing.  They've created a fantastic world.  The look and feel of the game is truly superb.

The job system is essentially expanded from Final Fantasy.  I saw a lot of the jobs I've run into before, but they seem to be more fleshed out here.  Characters are able to have a primary job and a secondary job at the same time.  This opens up all sorts of interesting combinations and experimentation.  On top of the 2 jobs, characters also get to pick up support abilities from other jobs they've leveled in.  I literally had hours of fun playing around with the job system.  That's probably a personal preference, but if you like playing around with systems you will love what Bravely Default offers.

The story has is a mixed bag.  This paragraph will have very minor spoilers.  The game is divided into chapters.  In chapters 1-4 you have to accomplish a similar task 4 separate times.  4 times feels perfect for the story and it works really well.  Each of the 4 tasks is similar, but unique in it's own way too.  I loved these chapters.  Then chapter 5 hit.  In chapter 5-8 you basically have to do that same task 16 more times and it loses all sense of fun and momentum.  I was extremely disappointed with this middle section of the game.  It's especially sad to see after such a strong start.  The final chapters of the game once again get interesting and I truly enjoyed the ending, but the middle section is a blemish on the overall story.

Bravely Default uses the 3DS features well.  I played the whole game in 3D and it really added something to the visuals.  That's not true of a lot of 3DS games.  The streetpass feature was fun too.  I was able to send and receive attacks and heals from other people playing the game and then summon them in the middle of battle.  It's actually a really cool implementation of streetpass.  The village rebuilding minigame was somewhat interesting too, but I got enough streetpasses that I was finished with it when I was about a fourth of the way through the game.

I can't believe I haven't mentioned the battle system yet.  It's a twist on a classic turn based battle.  Characters are able to Default which lets them save up actions.  On subsequent turns they can Brave and spend all of their saved up actions at the same time.  It really changed the way I thought about battle.  Random encounters became all about Braving and launching all-out attacks on monsters.  Boss battles become an intricate dance of when to use Brave and when to use Default.  Bosses were more challenging and interesting than I've encountered in a JRPG in a long time.

Not to mention some of the convenience systems in place in this game.  I set up a selection of good commands and used auto-battle to repeat them against random monsters.  Mix that with the ability to have battles play out at 4x speed and grinding becomes totally painless.  I sometimes took it in the extreme the other direction and turned off random encounters.  I love this option as it let me fully focus on exploring dungeons without any interruptions.  They don't advertise these convenience functions well, but they are there and I appreciated them.

Bravely Default is a good game.  Despite some story pacing issues in the middle I would still strongly recommend this game.  It's not going to appeal to everyone, but it's a must buy for anyone who owns a 3DS and is a fan of Final Fantasy or JRPGs in general.




Final Fantasy FFIV Wrap Up
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 February 2014, 10:17 pm

I'm already done with FFIV.  I didn't do any mid-way posts because the game held my attention so well.  It only took me a couple weeks of lunch breaks and commuting time to finish.  Let me tell you, Final Fantasy IV is a fantastic entry in the series!  More than anything else, the story made all the difference.

There was so much character development and interaction, especially compared to the first three entries.  Now that I've finished this game I've come to realize how much I was missing a solid story in the older games.  A memorable story with interesting characters has become a hallmark of a Final Fantasy game and this is the first place that it's evident.


This game actually has a bunch of firsts for Final Fantasy.  First use of the Active Time Battle system.  First time class is tied to characters and their personality.  First decent story.  First time having lots of temporary characters to fill out the roster.  First major character sacrifice.  First amazing music.

The music!  It's so good!  I absolutely love Nobuo Uematsu's work in the series and this is the first time it shines.  Themes from this game will stick with me forever.  I've already found a couple tracks that have made it into my regular playlist.

I don't know how much more I have to say about FFIV.  It's a good game.  The first good Final Fantasy.  I'll be recommending it to others in the future.  If anyone asks me how far back they should go in the FF lineup I'll be telling them to start with FFIV.  The first three are so skippable in comparison.


It's remarkable that my total play time is almost identical to my playthrough of  FFIII.  III felt like it took forever to slog through.  With IV I enjoyed each play session and I was disappointed when it was over.

Total Play Time: 25 hrs 6 mins.


Final Fantasy IV Initial Impressions
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 January 2014, 9:56 pm
Kain is here to ease my suffering from FFIII.  Thanks Kain.

I was planning on writing my initial impressions sooner, but FFIV pulled me in right away and hasn't let go.  I'm already about 8 hours into the game so I figure it's about time to put some thoughts down.

When I put on my headphones and first launched FFIV the music overwhelmed me.  It was so much better than the last three games I played.  I literally just sat there and listened to the title music for at least 5 minutes.  I don't know if the music has been remastered or if Square just hit their stride with this one, but the music is top notch.  This is where the work of Nobuo Uematsu truly starts to shine.  So many of his compositions and arrangements are in my mind forever and I know FFIV will add a few tracks of it's own.



It's also immediately obvious that the story in FFIV is meant to drive the game.  I'm invested in the saga of Cecil and his companions in a way that I never was with FFI through FFIII.  This is still from the era of Final Fantasy games that I've never played before, so each twist and turn is a delight for me.  I'm so excited to see where the characters end up.  *Spoilers* I've already guided Cecil on his path to redemption and watched him find solace in his transformation from a dark knight to a paladin.  I was touched when Polom and Porom sacrificed themselves so that the other members of the party could live.  I was legitimately upset when Rosa was taken away because I enjoyed seeing the positive influence she had on Cecil. *End Spoilers*  I don't know what the next twist will be, but I'm excited to experience it.



From a technical standpoint this is a better remake than FFIII.  Quickly I realized the virtual analog stick controls much better than FFIII, which is something I was never entirely satisfied with.  Character animations and models are given more attention, detail, and are used extremely well in cut scenes.  There is actual voice work in the game and it's not bad.  The game even has iOS achievements integrated well, if you're into that kind of thing.

I have a lot of other thoughts still bubbling in my head about FFIV, but I want to play more and see how things shake out.  At this point I can already recommend this over the first three entries in the series.  If you're looking for a classic Final Fantasy game to warm that old-school heart of yours you could do much worse than dropping a few bucks for Final Fantasy IV.


Finally Fantasy (III) is Complete!
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 January 2014, 12:28 am
Victorious (Ignus usually looks like that after a boss battle)

I wanted to finish Final Fantasy III before the end of the year and I got it in just under the wire.  My drive to power through the rest of the game and wrap it up was because I was stuck for such a long time.  The last 20% of this game took me months and months simply because I didn't want to spend time grinding levels.

I would not recommend Final Fantasy III to other people.  It's the most grindy Final Fantasy game that I've played so far, and I've played most of them at one point or another.  FFIII was most definitely a slog, especially toward the end.  I'm not a fan of games that have mandatory level grinding to finish the game and unfortunately this falls into that category.

It wasn't a horrible game by any means, it just wasn't nearly as good as the other entries in the Final Fantasy series that I've played.  It had a more fleshed out story and better characters than FFI and FFII which is nice to see.  I also enjoyed the remastered 3D graphics which were a nice change of pace from the 2D sprites of the last two games.

It's been interesting to see the emergence of Final Fantasy staples over the course of the first three games.  Jobs finally made an appearance in FFIII and I had a lot of fun playing around with my party composition.  It's not as refined as some of the later job systems, but it gets the job done (pun by accident, sorry).

I don't know what else to say about this one.  I'm glad it's done.  I might take another break before diving into Final Fantasy IV.  From everything I've read it has a much better story than any of the first three games, but I dread the potential grind of a new title.  After this one, I definitely need a game with minimal or no grinding to keep me interested.

Total Completion Time: ~24hrs (over the course of 18 months)


A Little Strategy in Your Handheld
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 September 2013, 3:00 pm


I've been playing a lot of games for my 3DS.  Right now I'm playing through Fire Emblem: Awakening and enjoying it a ton.

The older I get the more I move away from real time strategy games and start to appreciate the turn-based format.  It's not that my reflexes are bad, I'm only 26, but I just don't have time to devote to getting really good at execution in games.  I'm usually playing less than an hour each night and I'm lucky if that is one uninterrupted block of time.

For me, right now, Fire Emblem: Awakening is perfect.  It's a turn based strategy with interesting mechanics that I can suspend at any time.  I constantly have it near me since my 3DS is almost always close by.  It's great to be able to take a turn and then put it down to come back to later.  Even if I know I only have 5 minutes I still get to make some progress and stretch my mind with some strategy.

It's more character driven than most turn-based RPGs I've played.  If you're a fan of character growth and interaction it will be right up your alley.  Some great character development and customization ties the whole game together.

I've recommended it to everyone that I know who owns a 3DS.  If you have one you should definitely look into it.




My Constant Companion
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 September 2013, 12:00 pm

I've mostly been gaming during my lunch hour or once my kids are in bed at night.  When I finally get a few free minutes to play a game I almost always turn to my 3DS.  It travels everywhere with me just in case I get an opportunity to bust it out for 5 minutes and play.

It's really an awesome system.  The 3D effect is cool, but not required.  It has a great lineup of games that's constantly growing.  It has support for digital purchases.  It's finally a Nintendo console with decent online play.  It's easy to carry around.  But most importantly, it's fun!

I've had a blast with Mario Kart 7, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Paper Mario Sticker Star, Donkey Kong Country Returns, New Super Mario Bros 2, and Super Mario 3D Land, Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

Not to mention all the fantastic eShop and Virtual Console games I've been playing.  Nintendo has a lot to offer.

They're even catering to our nostalgic impulses.  I had a few weeks where all I played were the two Legend of Zelda Oracle games that intertwine.  They're amazing entries in the Zelda franchise and I had never finished them before.  I picked them up together for about $10 for Virtual Console and loved every minute of them.

The more they expand the lineup of new releases and nostalgic games the more I love the system.  With Pokemon X/Y, Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Mario Party: Island Tour, and Smash Brothers 3DS all around the corner I'm excited to see how well the system does this holiday season.


Gone Dark
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 September 2013, 12:00 pm
It's been a busy year.  I haven't written on here in about nine months, and I feel pretty bad about that.  Sometimes you just have to drop things to free up time for others.  In my case, I have 2 little kids, I moved my family, and I've been teaching myself the programing languages in a typical web stack (HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, MySQL).  My time is essentially accounted for with all of this on top of my full-time job.

I'm finally starting to feel the stress and the crazyness let up, so I'm hoping to write more.  If all goes well, you should see more posts here soon.

The last nine months have been busy but I have found time to play games.  I just haven't had time to write about them.

Steam and Nintendo have been my companions when I can find free time, all of my gaming has been taking place on PC and my 3DS.  My (fifth) Xbox 360 died a few months ago and I didn't feel like replacing it again.  I can basically play everything I want to play on PC through Steam for cheaper, so what's the point of re-buying yet another 360?  My 360 was used 99% of the time as a media streaming device so I ended up replacing it with a Roku which turned out to be a fantastic idea.

I just touched on a ton of topics which I can (hopefully) flesh out in later posts.  Sorry for my long absence.

I'm back!


Hearthstone May Be a CCG for Me
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 September 2013, 12:00 pm

There's a wave of hype building for Blizzard's new digital CCG, Hearthstone.  It's winning me over.  It's strange since I'm not normally a CCG guy, but I think this one could be for me.

I've dabbled in various card games over the years.  I've used other people's decks and played a little bit of Magic the Gathering and the Pokemon card game.  I got seriously into the Game of Thrones Living Card game for about a year.  It helped that one of my friends owned every single card from that game.  I also picked up a starter kit for the Netrunner Living Card Game and loved the ideas in it, I just didn't have anyone to play it with consistently.

So that's where I'm coming from.  A little of bit CCG and LCG knowledge paired with one year of fairly intense play (and a tournament) for the Game of Thrones LCG.

Why does Hearthstone appeal to me so much?  Well, it's the first digital card game created by a proven AAA video game design company.  I know that it will be super polished.  That's what Blizzard does.  A simple look at the UI already shows how much effort they're putting into this game.

They're doing things you can't do with a physical card game.  Persistent health is a really cool concept that doesn't translate to physical cards.  Digitally, you can easily add and subtract health to a card and have it appear directly on the card.  Not only that, but you can send a creature back to an opponent's hand with a negative effect still on it.  They're just scratching the surface of the unique things a digital card game offers, but I can't wait to see more.

It looks like a solid CCG.  From what I've seen it looks like a well developed game.  The creators obviously know their stuff when it comes to card games and it shows.

I can't wait to get my hands on Hearthstone.  It's always best to get in on the ground floor of a CCG or LCG.  It's when everyone else is still learning and their isn't a huge backlog of cards to pick up.  If you're interested in CCGs this will be one you should try out at launch.

If I get a beta key I'll definitely be writing more about it.


Progress
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 January 2013, 9:12 pm
I always like to feel like I'm making progress in life.  It's not just my career or family life, this extends into my hobbies as well.  I always have multiple things that I'm working my way through.

Generally, I have a game I'm playing, a TV show that I'm watching, a book that I'm reading, and a skill that I'm learning.  At any given time in the past 10 or so years I guarantee that I could name all four of those thing for you at the drop of a hat.  Every night I make some progress on one of those things.

Even when I have a "lazy day" I know that one of those will move along a little bit.  Does anyone else find themselves in the same mindset?  I find that I literally can't sit in front of a TV and just watch random stuff all day.  I feel like I'm not making progress on anything that counts and it drives me crazy.

Right now I'm finishing up watching Game of Thrones Season 1 again.  I'm in the middle of reading A Clash of Kings (Song of Ice and Fire Book 2).  I'm playing through both Final Fantasy III and Dishonored, depending on my mood.  And I'm learning Javascript with the help of a book and a fantastic website called Code Academy.

What type of things do you make progress on when you have free time?


Pointing and Clicking and Walking and Dying
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 December 2012, 12:37 am


I've never been much of an adventure game fan.  All that pointing and clicking didn't hold much appeal for me.  The stories were too slow and the puzzles too obtuse to enjoy.  Every time I played an adventure game I felt like I would rather be reading the story in a book or playing a more active version of the game.

This all changed when my brother convinced me to play The Walking Dead.  I have never played an adventure game like it.  For the first time ever I was drawn in and captivated by all the pointing and clicking.

But there is so much more to The Walking Dead than just that.  There are truly meaningful decisions and the most difficult moral choices that I've ever made in a game.  In an undead apocalypse who can you really trust and what are you willing to do to survive?  I made a lot of decisions that seemed like the best idea at the time but ended up with unforeseen consequences.

I want to give so many amazing examples from my playthrough, but this is a truly a game I don't want to spoil for anyone.  My simple recommendation is to play this game.  It's definitely not for the faint of heart but it's worth it to see the power a game can have when the decisions are difficult and everything is morally grey.




End of Summer, Start of Fall: Impressions
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 October 2012, 12:34 am


Life has been busy lately, but I've been playing games when I get a chance and I finally have time tonight to write up some quick impressions.  These are all games that I'm currently playing.

FTL
FTL: Faster Than Light is a game that I helped kickstart a while ago and it's great to see it doing so well on Steam!  It's a brutally challenging space survival game that I've been recommending to everyone.  My first round of impressions still stand.  For $10 on Steam you really can't go wrong.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
This is a fantastic refinement of the Counter-Strike series.  CS has been one of the quintessential competitive first person shooters since it was first released and I can see this latest iteration becoming huge in the esports community.  I convinced a bunch of co-workers to try it at work and we've been having tons of fun killing each other during lunch.  I also spent some time setting up a custom CS:GO linux server as a side project.  I don't sit down and play this for long stretches at a time, but I have been playing a match or two most days.  I was extremely impressed that Valve released CS:GO for $15 on day one for all systems.

Guild Wars 2
I've been having a lot of fun in this MMO.  I haven't played a MMO since about a month after Cataclysm released, so it's nice to get back into this type of world.  I'm picking away at it a little bit at a time.  I love all the little improvements and refinements, especially the downleveling that let's me play with my brother whenever we can both find the time.

The Walking Dead
I didn't think I was a fan of adventure games until my brother convinced me to play this one.  I've never been so engrossed in an adventure game before.  The classic zombie survival scenario is seriously given a human face here.  I'm invested in what happens to the characters around me and I'm genuinely saddened when they die or get hurt.  Having not played many adventure games I really don't know how to analyze this one but I'm really excited to dive back into the new episodes soon.

100000000
An amazing puzzle game with a hard name to search for (there are 8 zeros if you're wondering).  I obsessed over this game for 2 weeks straight and never got to write about it.  It's a twist on the classic match-3 style of puzzle game where the tiles slide around and you can make combos for bonus points.  The RPG style progression system build on top of the puzzle game is really what makes this one shine.  Every puzzle game fan should check it out.

Team Fortress 2
I'm still playing this regularly which I can't say about any other games that came out in 2007.  My wife and I have been having a lot of fun in the new Man vs Machine co-op mode.  It's a great addition to the TF2 roster.

Hero Academy
Another game that I've been playing for quite a while but that I'm still enjoying.  I play a couple turns in each of my games every day.  Check out my past impressions or just try this one out for free on the iOS app store.  It also recently released on Steam.

Final Fantasy III
I'm not having a lot of fun with this game so progression is really slow.  I want to finish it for my Final Fantasy Project but I'm only playing a little bit at a time.


What's everyone else been playing for the past couple months?  Are there any games you've been having a lot of fun with that I should look into?




Now That It's Live
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 September 2012, 12:14 pm


Guild Wars 2 has been out for about a week and I've been spending most of my gaming time with it.  I still really enjoy it and my feelings toward the game haven't changed much from my beta impressions.

I have come to realize that the driving force behind my purchase of the game is that there is no monthly subscription.  It's amazing to me that the business model plays such a huge factor, but the truth of the matter is that I wouldn't be playing this game if I had to pay for it monthly.  It has all sorts of incremental improvements on the genre but nothing is revolutionary to the point where I would dish out $15 a month to play.

My in game time is mainly taken up with exploring and completing zones.  I'm an explorer at heart which makes completing vistas and collecting points of interest appealing to me.

I'm also loving the ability to play with friends easily.  I love the down scaling of player level for content because it lets me and my brother play together without worrying about our levels, something that has always been an issue for us in MMOs.  It also keeps low level content fresh while exploring.

If you're sick of hotbar MMOs you're not going to be happy with GW2.  If, however, you're looking for the next stage of hotbar MMO with improvements and no subscription fee this is the game for you.



Final Fantasy III: Virtual Analog Stick Woes
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 August 2012, 11:49 pm

I've previously discussed my thought on the virtual d-pad implemented in FFI and FFII on iOS.  It generally works fine, it just doesn't have the tactile feedback I'm used to with a controller.  Final Fantasy III uses a virtual analog stick instead of a virtual d-pad and it's a totally different story.

The virtual analog stick is extremely frustrating to use.  The lack of tactical sensation makes it difficult to judge how far you actually have the analog stick pressed in one direction or another and which direction it's been pushed.  Not only is it hard to judge but the stick location actually moves around the screen depending on where your thumb is touching.  It's impossible to learn the area the virtual analog stick occupies because it is constantly moving every time you pick up your thumb and put it somewhere new.  If it wasn't constantly moving around I could at least learn to use it by spending enough time with it.

Final Fantasy III is a fully 3D game with 3D environments which means the player isn't confined to simple 4 direction movement like in FFI and FFII.  This makes having a reliable and functional input device a key aspect of the game design.  Unfortunately, it's sorely missing.

So far the graphics, story, and gameplay are all good but every time I sit down to play I immediately get frustrated with the controls.  I'll struggle my way through it for now and I'll write more once I'm farther into the game.



Now I'll Play It
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 August 2012, 2:53 pm

Most of you heard last week that Star Wars The Old Republic is going free to play.  This really isn't a surprise since their subscriber numbers have slowly been dwindling.  At this point it's hard for any quest based MMO to have a subscription model since they're immediately competing with World of Warcraft and it's 8 years of expansions and polish.  Even if that game has a huge intellectual property, like Star Wars, behind it.

When SWTOR was released I said that the only way I would play it is if they dropped the subscription.  Now that there will be no subscription I will most definitely be playing.  I don't know how much I'll like it, but I'll give the game a try.  I really enjoy Bioware RPGs and would have loved for SWTOR to have just been a new single player RPG when it released.  I never thought that it needed to actually enter the MMO space.  If they had made KOTOR 3 I would have bought it on release day.

Anyway, you can find all sorts of commentary about what SWTOR going F2P means, so I won't spend time diving into an analysis.  I'll just say that I'm happy they've finally caught up to modern online financial models.



Boxed Up Fun Contests!
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 July 2012, 7:00 am


I'm really excited to announce that Boxed Up Fun is launching monthly board game giveaways!  This is just one of the features we've been working on and we're constantly striving to improve the site.

We want people to enjoy interacting with the site and this contest is all about leaving reviews and getting the word out about Boxed Up Fun!  You can see the official contest rules right here, but basically you get entries for writing a short (twitter length) review on a game, spreading the word about us on twitter, or posting on our facebook page.

This month we're giving away Eminent Domain.  It's a fun and fast sci-fi deck building game.  It has some interesting role selection mechanics on top of the deck building which all combines into a unique game.  I really like it because it's not too difficult to grasp, but it still has enough strategy to be enjoyable and it can be played fairly quickly.  Most of our play sessions have lasted 30-45 minutes.

Come visit, let us know what you think about the site, and interact to win a free board game while you're at it!



Me and My MMOs
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 July 2012, 11:36 pm
Tesh posted a great recap of where he's coming from when he talks about MMOs and it inspired me to do the same. I don't know how interesting this will be for other people, but I'm hoping it will give you some perspective on my MMO history.

The main thing you should know about me is that I love the idea of MMOs, but when I go to play them they rarely stick.  There have been some exceptions, but in most MMOs I only dabble before moving on.



My first MMO was Everquest.  My friends and I played this in middle school when it first came out.  I can still remember most of the details of Crushbone, one of the first zones in the game.  It's crazy that in my mind's eye I can see all of the hills, catacombs, the castle, the different routes through the zone, and I still remember the spawns.  It must be because I played the game so much, but never truly leveled very high.  I played from around launch in March of 1999 through the first 2 expansions.  I remember how monumental those expansions were.  Today, expansions are basically expected, but back then it was utterly amazing to have access to new continents, zones, and levels.  The Ruins of Kunark came out in early 2000 while The Scars of Velious came out later that same year.  They both kept me entertained for quite a while.  After that I started high school and MMOs held less sway.  They faded into the background as I moved on to different activities.

When my friend got hooked on Dark Age of Camelot in 2001 I gave that a try, but only played it for a few weeks.  It just never clicked with me.  The same thing happened in 2003 with Shadowbane, a game that promised player run cities and sieges.  It sounded fun, but again, it simply didn't hook me.  That same year I enjoyed Planetside, but my computer never ran it quite right, so I had to give up on that game too.

Then 2004 happened.  That's the year World of Warcraft was released.  WoW immediately grabbed the attention of my group of friends because we were huge WarCraft fans.  I had played WarCraft 2, WarCraft 3, and all the expansion packs that went with them.  Any game set in the same universe was an instant purchase.

Vanilla WoW held my attention until endgame.  I don't know how many months I played, but I started at launch and worked my way up to max level.  I tried a raid or two, realized it wasn't for me, and retired my subscription until late 2008 when Wrath of the Lich King released and my friends convinced me to resubscribe.  They then proceeded to power level me through The Burning Crusade content so that I could play Wrath with them.  Once again I reached max level, tried a few raids, and promptly unsubscribed.

When I went back and played through Cataclysm the same pattern emerged.  You can actually go read my posts about Cataclysm from my archive to see my progression if you're interested.

Along the way from Everquest to now (and my current zero MMOs) I've tried out Tabula Rasa, Star Wars Galaxies, Puzzle Pirates, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Anarchy Online, EVE Online, Final Fantasy XI, Runescape, Travian, Everquest II, Guild Wars, and probably some others that I've forgotten.

I guess the moral of the story is that I've tried my fair share of MMOs, but it takes a lot to keep me interested.



FTL: A Game of Many Things
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 June 2012, 7:00 am


FTL is a game about space exploration.  Well, that's what I initially thought.  Then I played it and learned that FTL is a game about survival.  But then I learned that the game is about managing the crew of a spaceship.  But the crew doesn't control the ship on their own, because the game is actually about balancing power and distributing it between different ship systems.  But... system power needs depend on what gear is currently equipped to the ship.  So I guess FTL is also about upgrading spaceships.

The truth is... FTL is a game about a lot of different things.  The important part is that they all work together and create something magical.  I've been told by others that FTL is a "Roguelike" but since I've never played a rougelike I don't know if that's an apt description.  I do know that in any one playthrough of the game you'll be doing all those things I mentioned above and, if you're like me, you'll be having a fantastic time doing them.

I could write for paragraphs about the different game systems and how they all interact, but to get a true feel for the game it's easier to give an example turn.  So let's do just that.

My FTL is fully charged so I jump to a nearby node in my current sector.  The node I jump to is in an uncharted nebula.  My scanners notice a ship trying to hide in the nebula and I decide to investigate further.  As I approach I notice that it's a slaver ship. It immediately powers up it's weapons and begins to unload on my ship.  I power up my lasers and - realizing they won't be enough to get through the enemy shields - I divert power from my engine to power up my missile launcher.  Now my ship has less of a chance to evade, but I have access to more firepower.  I use the missiles to target their shield generator room while using the lasers to disable their engines.  Unfortunately for me they decide to teleport 2 crew members to my ship to sabotage my shield generator.  I have to pull my weapons officer, engine officer, and shield officer off of their stations to fight the enemy in my shield generator room.  Our ships continue to trade volleys while our crews fight it out.  Mid-fight I have to send my weapons officer to the med bay because he's so injured that he might die.  My 2 remaining officers manage to eliminate the enemy but not before the enemy caused some damage to the shield generator room.  My officers immediately begin to repair the damage but not fast enough to prevent a laser volley from getting through to my O2 room and causing a fire.  Since so many officers are busy I have to pull my pilot out of the helm to extinguish the fire in the O2 room before our oxygen supply starts to dwindle.  While the fire dies down a final volley of lasers and a missile from me destroys the enemy ship.  I heal my officers, repair my ship, recover all the scrap I can from the enemy, charge up the FTL drive and get ready to jump again.

And that's only one node.  Not all of them contain battles.  Others have friendly encounters, interesting offers, stores, merchants, distress signals, and the occasional optional quest.  Each sector has around 25 nodes but on average you'll only get to visit 5-10 of them because you're carrying vital information for the federation and the rebel fleet is closing in on you.

The game becomes a precarious balance between maximizing how much exploration and upgrading you can do in each sector while still staying ahead of the rebel fleet.  When they catch up to you it's still possible to escape, but it becomes much more difficult.

I haven't even mentioned the difficulty.  I've sunk over 10 hours into this game already.  I've done a "full" playthrough 10 times.  I've played about half on normal and half on easy.  Every game has resulted in my death.  I still haven't beaten the game on easy.  This game is tough.  It really is about survival and one wrong move or bad jump can get you killed.  Honestly, I haven't been this challenged or excited by a game in quite some time.  I have a feeling that people who like devilishly difficult games are going to love this one.

FTL is currently in beta but since I helped fund the Kickstarter I'm in the early access beta group on steam.  The team has been amazingly responsive to the fans and new builds have been distributed frequently, every one having new features.  With more features in every build  I can't wait for the game to release so that the rest of you can experience it.  I'll be sure to keep you updated.




Teaching an Old Story New Tricks: Media Influences on Birthright
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 June 2012, 7:00 am
Today's guest post is by a friend and fellow blogger, Professor Beej.  When he's not writing awesome geekery over at his blog he's busy writing fiction.  Not only does he have a serial novel in the works but he has an ongoing Kickstarter for his cross-genre novel, Birthright.  That's what I asked him to talk about today.


I love pop culture and geek media. Love it. I love the stories, the settings, the themes, the characters, all of it--and because of that, my novel Birthright is the exactly the kind of book I’d want to read.

Now hear me out. I’m not saying that in a self-aggrandizing or egotistical kind of way; I’m just saying that so that you get an idea of what kind of book it is. Because if you’re a pop culture fanatic like me, I think there’s something in Birthright for you, too.

In fact, I think there’s a lot of somethings in Birthright for you. You see, when Void asked me for a guest post about media influences, I thought it would be easy. After all, I describe the book as Ender’s Game meets The Lord of the Rings.

But as I really started writing about and digging into these pop culture and geek media influences, the more I realized how indebted I am to these works. Because without them my work wouldn’t exist. Couldn’t exist.

And so, in no particular order, I’ve narrowed down 5 major (non-MMO) media influences on Birthright.

Firefly

Let me just get this one out there. You can’t really talk about cross-genre fiction without starting with Firefly. Joss Whedon’s cult-masterpiece is far too ingrained in the popular geek consciousness to avoid. So what role exactly did Firefly play in Birthright’s creation?

Well, primarily, I was able to look at Firefly to see the perfect example of worldbuilding. The Western conventions were never explicitly explained any more than the science-fiction ones were. They don’t explain why there are cattle-rustlers in space; there just are.

So in Birthright, I didn’t think it was necessary to explain why there are SF trappings like holograms and laser guns in a fantasy world. There just are. That’s just the world of Erlon.

Star Wars

I almost didn’t include Star Wars on this list of influences because it’s almost a cliche to say that Star Wars influenced me as a science-fiction writer. Because Star Wars has influenced every single science-fiction writer since 1977 in one way or another.

But I couldn’t leave it off. Not with as big a Star Wars fan as I am, and especially not with one of my lifelong dreams being to write a Star Wars novel. Cliche or not, Star Wars is a part of Birthright.

But what kind of part? Well, that’s kind of hard to pin down because Star Wars kind of permeates our popular consciousness.  It’s SF with a hero growing up, mysticism and pseudomagic, and an underlying theme of inherent ambiguity in good and evil.

And, like one of my readers pointed out, the villain even has the initials DV. Which I swear to you was unintentional.

Lord of the Rings

What’s a fantasy novel without an epic quest, right?

Tolkien did a lot for literature. Maybe even more than you realize. Not only was he the great-grandaddy of the high-fantasy quest and more genre conventions than we can shake a trope at, but he’s also the reason that us English teachers make students read Beowulf.

That’s right. Tolkien’s essay on the now-classic poem claimed that the important aspects of the poem weren’t the histories, but the monsters.

I love that idea, so I wanted to expand on it by bringing “the monsters” in Birthright to the forefront. In Birthright, the villain actually gets PoV chapters instead of being hidden away in a dark tower somewhere or presented through the goody-goody bias of the hero.

Ender’s Game

When I read Ender’s Game for the first time, I was struck by the idea of Battle School. I just loved the concept beind an isolated, high-tech academy for training the soldiers of tomorrow.

So in Birthright, I have the Inkwell Sigil, a ship traveling through the space between Instances, a ship separated quite literally from anything and everything else, where newly recruited technomages are trained for their service in the Archive.

Plus, as a different kind of homage to OSC and what he did with Battle School, the story starts out at Ennd’s Academy and circles back there from time to time.

Harry Potter

The Harry Potter series, like Ender’s Game, influenced Birthright with its unique take on a school setting. Nothing in my series is a direct parallel to Hogwarts, so put that out of your mind. Instead, I wanted Ennd’s Academy and the Inkwell Sigil and all other locations in the novel to feel like Hogwarts.

Remember how it felt to read the scene where Harry first enters the Great Hall and sees the enchanted ceiling? Remember that sense of wonder?

That’s what I am going for in Birthright. I wanted a sense of awe and wonder about the setting from the very beginning. And not just from the readers. I wanted the characters to experience that awe and wonder, too. Be sure to check out the sample chapters of Birthright and judge for yourself how well I did.

Others?

Obviously. After a life of geekdom, I know there are tons of others out there. From Stargate SG-1 to Michael Crichton’s Prey to Herbert’s Dune to pretty much anything that’s ever appeared in a SyFy original movie. It’s all in Birthright. Somehow.

Because there are no new stories. Just old stories told in new ways. And I think my new way is pretty freaking awesome.

B.J. Keeton is currently running a  Kickstarter campaign for Birthright, the firstbook in The Technomage Archive series.  He is is a writer, blogger, and teacher. When he isn’t trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he writes science fiction, watches an obscene amount of genre television, and is always on the lookout for new ways to integrate pop culture into the classroom. B.J. lives in a small town in Tennessee with his wife and a neighborhood of stray cats, and he blogs about pop culture, geek media, and awesomeness at professorbeej.com.




Sporadic: Offspring
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 June 2012, 12:16 am

I write this with a 4-day-old laying nearby on the couch.  He's my son, he's new, and he's awesome.  I won't go into a ton of personal detail, but me, my wife, 2-year-old daughter, and newborn son are all settling in at home.  My posts might be a little more sporadic until we find a routine that works and get used to having twice the amount of kids.

Don't worry, I'm still here.  I'll get back to a regular post schedule eventually.



A New Kind of Steampunk
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 June 2012, 4:28 pm
I've never been a fan of steampunk.  Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of a world where technology advanced along a different path.  My problem with steampunk is that the setting is usually similar to early 1900's England.  It's too based in the real world to be interesting to me.  But what if a world powered by steam was placed in a different setting?  I could get behind that.

Enter Nimbus.  Nimbus is a serial novel written by a fellow blogger and friend, Professor Beej.  The world of Nimbus is run on steam, but that's where most of the similarities with traditional steampunk end.  The world is covered in a fog that kills or disfigures all who come in contact with it.  The only remaining bastions of humanity are places so high in the air that the fog doesn't reach them.  Since ground travel would kill everyone the only viable option for transportation is via airships that run on steam.

But water isn't just the power source for technology, it's also the base form of currency.  Most people don't have access to clean water.  Pure water is so rare that entire airships are dedicated to collecting water from clouds.  Since water is so valuable it adds an interesting twist to generating steam and powering technology.  People have to balance the benefit of technology against the cost of water it takes to generate the steam.

Take some time and investigate the world of Nimbus if this sounds even remotely interesting to you.  Beej is releasing weekly chapters for free over on his site but I would suggest supporting this kind of writing by actually buying Nimbus: Part One on Amazon.

I can't recommend him as an author enough and it would be remiss of me not to mention his other project, Birthright.  It's a completely different world but it seems just as interesting.  His Kickstarter for the novel is going on now and has some free sample chapters included.  If you're a fan of quality world-building you should donate!



GW2 Beta Further Thoughts
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 June 2012, 5:47 pm

I had fun with the Guild Wars 2 beta last weekend, but the game isn't perfect by any means.  I don't like to get anyone hyped up without telling them about the negatives.  After thinking about it for a few days there are certain things that I think could use improvement.

Let's talk about quest flow.  The renown heart system is a step in the right direction for questing.  It let me wander into an area and immediately start doing a variety of tasks that fill up the renown heart.  Killing monsters, collecting items, and completing tasks all contribute to the overall heart.  All of this can be done without ever talking to the quest giver.  In a lot of ways this is perfect for an explorer like me.  I can just wander around and organically complete renown heart quests while exploring.

It would be great on it's own but besides the renown heart quests there are also personal story quests.  Renown hearts are great for exploring, but when I want story I would much rather do the personal quest line.  The trouble with the personal quest line is it doesn't give enough experience to sustain itself.  After a few quests the recommended level is higher than my character.  This effectively disrupts the fun I'm having with the personal quest and forces me to go grind out some more levels before I can continue.  I think this is a huge oversight.  Azuriel gives a great example of this over on his blog.

My other main complaint is that some of the weapon abilities don't really mesh well.  The two handed weapons are fine but when one type of weapon is equipped in a character's main hand an a different type is in their off hand there can be issues.  The first 3 skill slots come from the main hand weapon and the next 2 come from the off hand.  Some combos work. Some just feel off.

Arenanet seems to be all about changes and improvements between beta events so I'll keep watching as the game develops.  These aren't game breakers for me, but it would be nice to see the issues addressed.



Numbers, Releases, and the United States
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 June 2012, 7:00 am

I'm staying chronological with my Final Fantasy Project which means that next up is Final Fantasy III.  Before I begin, it's important to note that not all Final Fantasy III's are created equal.  What do I mean by that?  Well, it's time for a mini history lesson.

When Final Fantasy III was brought to the United States it wasn't actually Final Fantasy III.  The original FFIII was released in Japan in 1990.  The game that was released with the title "Final Fantasy III" in the US in 1994 was actually Final Fantasy VI from Japan.  The next U.S. release after that was Final Fantasy VII in 1997.  From a U.S. perspective it looked like the series had jumped from III to VII but from that point forward all of the numbers matched on U.S. and Japanese releases.

Final Fantasy IV through VI were later released under their correct numbers in the United States on new platforms like Playstation and Game Boy Advance.  This covered all the releases in the series except for FFIII.

We need to jump ahead to 2006 to find the release of the real FFIII in the United States.  It was remade for the Nintendo DS with 3D graphics, but after 16 years Americans could finally play FFIII.  In 2011 a port of the DS version was released for iOS and that, my friends, is the version I will be playing.  Since I've played the first 2 games on my ipod touch I'll continue my iOS streak.  Between finishing the last game and starting this game I've made the jump to iphone, so that's where I'll be playing FFIII.

I know that was a roundabout way of letting you know the version I'll be playing, but I think the history behind the game is interesting.



Guild Wars 2 Beta Impressions
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 June 2012, 12:50 am

This weekend is another Beta Event Weekend for Guild Wars 2 and I finally played enough to feel like I can comment on it.  I also played in the first beta weekend but it took until now to firm up my thoughts on the game.

I like Guild Wars 2 in it's current state.  I've been away from MMOs for awhile so GW2 is scratching an itch that's been building for me.  But, fair warning, GW2 isn't completely groundbreaking or genre re-defining.  It's just a hotbar MMO that's being executed superbly.

That's not to say that ArenaNet hasn't made improvements to the MMO model.  Public quests - called events - are interlinked and very fun.  They flow into one another and form interesting stories across a zone.  It's really cool to see players organically work together to finish these events.  Every player gets full experience and loot for each kill, so there's no reason not to work together.  The interesting thing is that I'm constantly working together with players around me, but I never have to formally "group up."  I haven't actually joined a group in the entire time I've played, but I've teamed up with more players than I ever did in other MMOs.


GW2 introduced a new game mode besides standard PVE and PVP.  World vs World (vs World) is an interesting approach to PvP that most MMOs can't recreate.  It's a persistent 3-way war between 3 different servers.  I think it's a bold design choice that WvW gives regular experience.  This means that a player can play GW2 from level 1 to 80 entirely through WvW.  There's also more traditional PVP gameplay, but I have a feeling WvW is going to be hugely popular.

GW2 includes adaptive leveling.  When you zone into WvW you retain all your skills and weapons but your effective combat level instantly becomes 80.  The same idea applies in PVE where your level automatically adapts to the surrounding content.  If you're level 15 but enter a level 5 area your effective level drops to 5 but you still gain the amount of experience you normal would at level 15.  It keeps the exploration and backtracking fun because you can never steamroll over low level content and you're always gaining experience.  It also encourages grouping with low level friends and guild mates.

A lot of other MMOs end up giving so many skills by the end of the game that you need 6 hotbars and a set of macros to control your character effectively.  At least that's how I always felt in World of Warcraft.  Guild Wars 2 gets around this by limiting skills to 1 hotbar of 10 different skill slots.  The first 5 skills depend on the weapon - or weapons - you have equipped.  The other 5 skills are bought with skill points gained from leveling and are determined by the player.  There are many skills that can be swapped in and out of each slot, but only 10 will ever be in the hotbar at one time.  This keeps combat from being overwhelming, but also encourages tactical thinking and experimentation with skill swapping outside of combat.

I haven't even mentioned how much I love ArenaNet's business model.  There is no subscription fee!  I've sworn off games with subscription fees, but GW2 only costs the $60 price tag.  I can't stand paying sub fees, but I'll gladly pay full price to be able to play a game for the lifetime of it's servers.  There are also some optional in-game store items, but they don't look to be critical to gameplay.  For the moment I'm not worried about buying extras in game.

Guild Wars 2 is shaping up to be a fun game.  It's cool to watch the leaps and bounds the developers are making between beta weekends.  With the new features and gameplay modes I'm getting excited for it's eventual release!



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