Snacking With Graze Boxes
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 February 2015, 10:47 am

Graze boxes have been a huge help for me eating well.  I mentioned it offhand in my post about judging hunger and intermittent fasting but I wanted to give it some more focus.

I've always been bad at snacking healthy.  I have a tendency to eat whatever is out on the counter or easily visible while looking around my kitchen.  This has always led to me eating a lot of candy and processed food.  I've also never tried to portion control snacks, I would just eat a bunch.

Then my friend BJ Keeton told me about the wonders of Graze boxes.  Graze is essentially a subscription snacking service.  They have over 100 snacks and each one is self-contained and pre-portioned in a little container they call a punnent.   I've completely switched over to Graze punnets for snacking and it's made it much easier for me to eat healthy.

One of the really cool parts of Graze is that the snacks are relatively healthy but they aren't super healthy crazy super foods.  It's not the disgusting "health food" that is often shoved down your throat in advertisements.  They have things like Smores, Strawberry Shortcake, Cocoa and Vanilla Bars, and Banana Dippers with Caramel.  Those are some of my favorite snacks.  I, obviously, have a sweet tooth but they also have tons of savory snacks as well.  Seriously, go browse their snacks and see for yourself.

I would highly recommend Graze to anyone.  Both my wife and I have been using it for a few months now and we love it.  It's such a great service and it's actually affordable when you think about it in terms of replacing your current snacking budget.

If you go check it out and use one of my links in this post you should be able to get your first trial box for free (and your fifth as well if you subscribe).

Happy snacking!

Reassessing Rogue Legacy
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 February 2015, 10:00 am

Rogue Legacy is free to pick up as a PSN subscriber this month so I downloaded it for PS4 even though I've already tried it out on PC.

I launched the game while I was on my stationary bike and just kind of zoned out for a bit while playing, exercising, and listening to some podcasts.

My initial reaction was the same as when I played it on PC.  I didn't like it much.  But, it was helping me kill time while exercising and most of my brain power was being used listening to podcasts anyway.  So I kept playing.

The first hour or so of the game sucks.  Like, it really sucks.  Characters die almost instantly against enemies and can barely get anywhere in the game.  It's super frustrating and the first few unlockables don't feel like they help at all.  If you look back at my initial impression on the PC you can see that I gave up before even playing an hour of it because I was so frustrated with the game.

Something interesting happens after about an hour and a half.  The game starts to get better.  Enough upgrades and progression are finally unlocked.  Finally, characters don't die within the first few encounters.  I was able to get to new tilesets, new sections of the castle, and new enemies.  It became interesting.

While I'm not a fan of roguelikes in general and I still don't think it's a great game... it is much better than I originally thought.  From now on I'll probably play it occasionally while I'm on my stationary bike but I don't anticipate a time where I will ever sit down and play the game on it's own.

But it seems like podcasts, biking, and rogue legacy are a decent combination.

Gaming Podcasts on the Go
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 February 2015, 10:00 am

I had a few super busy days in the last week where I didn't get any chance to game.  Non-gaming days are the exception for me since I always try to make a little time in my day to disconnect and play something.

One of the few things that keeps me sane on crazy days are all the gaming podcasts I listen to.  I have a bunch I subscribe to and love.  With them always on my phone I know that I'll at least get to rest my mind for a bit while I'm commuting to and from work or meetings.

These brief periods of disconnecting from work make a huge difference in my day and my general happiness level.  At this point, I never listen to music in the car anymore since podcasts do such a better job of engaging my brain.  While I love music, if I listen to it while commuting I find that my mind is constantly on work.  If I throw on a podcast, my mind is actively engaged with the discussion on the show.

Finding gaming podcasts and listening to them has truly helped me get through my work weeks better.  I would be remiss to not leave you with a list of my current favorite gaming podcasts.  These are in order based on how long I've been subscribed to them ranging from multiple years to a podcast I discovered last week:
Overall, these represent about half of the podcasts I listen to.  The other half aren't gaming related (but they're also really good).

If you can't tell, I listen to a lot of podcasts.  And when I find one I enjoy I'll listen to the entire back-catalog of podcasts in the feed too.  So, when I tell you all the above podcasts are vetted and recommended by me, know that I truly mean it.

Codename S.T.E.A.M. Demo and the New 3DS
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 February 2015, 10:00 am

I've been super excited for Codename S.T.E.A.M. ever since it was announced at E3 this year!

It's a turn-based strategy game from the same people who make Fire Emblem.  This game is set in a steampunk world with lots of interesting visuals.  Each turn players have a certain amount of "steam" which is used for movement and attack.  Since both move and attack share the same resource it becomes a game about balancing when to use each one.

The demo just released earlier this week so I've been playing it off and on.  My reaction has been mixed.

I can tell the core of the game is really good, and I'm still most likely going to buy it.  I love the turn based strategy and the steam mechanic of resource management.  But there are some issues that I wouldn't have noticed if I skipped the demo.

My two biggest issues are the alien movement and the controls.

Alien movement is the enemies' turn and it takes a really long time to sit through.  While waiting for them to take their turn the camera is locked on the last character you used.  Basically I'm just sitting there staring at my character's back wondering if the aliens are actually doing anything.

The controls bug me because aiming and looking around is done with the touch screen and stylus.  It's serviceable, but it doesn't feel ideal.  This game is crying out for a second analog stick to aim with.  It would completely fix all my frustrations with the controls.

Both of these lead me to believe the game would be better on the New 3DS that's launching mid-February.  The New 3DS has a faster processor which might help with the alien turn speed and it has a second analog nub that can be used for aiming.  I'm not going to run out and get a new system, I really don't want to drop $200 for a system that I already own a version of.  Not to mention how much of a pain it would be to transfer all my games and data over to a new system with Nintendo's current account system.  It's still horrible and locks games and data to the hardware device instead of pairing it with the account that purchased it.  It would just be a headache in the making.

As time goes on I'll probably get worn down and pick up a New 3DS eventually.  I have owned almost every Nintendo handheld version since the GameBoy.  When I do inevitably cave in and buy a New 3DS I know it will provide a better experience with Codename S.T.E.A.M.

Until then, I still plan on picking up the game for my current 3DS XL.  It's fun and I love turn based combat systems.  I'll just have to deal with the slow alien turns and frustrating stylus aiming.

Mario Difficulties
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 February 2015, 10:00 am

I'm really good at Mario games.  I'm talking about the platformers, not the spin-offs.

I noticed it recently since my daughter has been asking me to play various Mario platformers with her on Wii U and 3DS.  I can jump into any level and typically beat it on the first try, often without being hit at all.  Even if it's right at the end of a game.

This makes me wonder, have I gotten too good at Mario games?  I still enjoy them, but they don't give me the same challenge they used to.

If a new Mario platformer comes out I always pick it up.  Lately, I'll beat the game within the first week.  Sometimes it's even within the first couple days.

I probably sound like an ass since I'm saying I'm too good at something.  But, when skill level and challenge level don't match up it can be frustrating.  It can go the opposite way too where the challenge is just so far above a player's skill level that it's frustrating.

I would really like to see a Mario game for expert players of the series.  People like me who have grown up with Mario and truly want a challenge.  I think it would be really fun.  I also think it will never happen.  Nintendo wants to stay accessible to kids, and I'm fine with that.  Chances are I'll never get my challenging Mario platformer, but at least my kids with get to grow up with Mario too.

Intermittent Fasting and Judging Hunger
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 February 2015, 10:00 am
I've noticed something weird as I've been tracking my calories.  I'm getting good at estimating how hungry I am... in calories.

I'm doing a diet where I only take in calories during 9 hours of the day.  One of the typical diets people do is only 8 hours (one third of a day) but 9 seems to work better in my case.  For me, this is between 2pm and 11pm.  It's a form of intermittent fasting which is interesting but doesn't have a huge body of research to back it up.  The important thing is that it's working for me.

I still take in a normal overall calorie intake for the day, just during a compressed window of time.  There are some extreme versions of this like the Warrior Diet but they didn't appeal to me as much.  They're a bit too extreme.

Intermittent Fasting plus tracking calories has had an interesting side effect for me.  I'm learning how to judge my hunger in calories.  I know generally how many calories I need to fulfill different kinds of hunger.  For me they break down like this:
  • Snack: 150-250 calories
  • Small Meal: 400-550 calories
  • Large Meal: 550-750 calories
  • Super Hungry: 750-900 calories
Now I'm able to take my subjective feelings and quantify them with a meal plan.

I have snacks and meals that I know how to make quickly which all fit under one of those categories.

Usually I'm eating small or large meals, so each intake is between 400 and 750 calories.  That seems to be the sweet spot for me.  I've only been super hungry a few times and 750 calories didn't quite cut it, but anytime I've gone over 900 calories I've felt way too full afterwards.

It's also really handy to be able to gauge if a snack will fill me or not.  I can quickly read the packaging info or look up a snack in MyFitnessPal to figure out a good portion to fill me up.  Graze boxes have been a huge help with snacking, since they're wonderful and pre-portioned.  I'll probably write about them in their own post soon.

Overall, my new diet is going well and I'm excited to continue it!  I'm trying to avoid having this be a temporary diet.  I'm attempting to change my lifestyle for the long run.

Nintendo Rewards Blowout
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 February 2015, 10:00 am

Yesterday Nintendo updated their Club Nintendo rewards and finally, for the first time, put up a good selection of games and accessories.  As of writing this, the site is still down because it can't handle the traffic.  That's what happens when you offer more than 100 different game choices and new physical rewards to a group of people that have been given 4-6 really bad game options each month for years on end.  Here's a full list from Reddit of all the reward offerings.

This has only come about because the Club Nintendo program has been canceled and that's the sad part.  I hate to see it go, but this is a nice parting gift.

I just wish they had all of these games available the entire time the rewards program was open.  They would have had many more people using Club Nintendo and responding to their surveys.

While I'm sad to see it go, for now I'll just be happy that I finally have some good games to spend my rewards points on.  Thanks Nintendo!

Baking! Class! Baking Class!
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 February 2015, 10:00 am

I took my wife on a date this weekend to a baking class.  We have a local shop that offers all kinds of hands-on cooking and baking classes, it's tons of fun.

This was a sweetshop bakery class, so we basically got to make breakfast pastries.  Those doughnuts you see above were made by us in class.  On top of those, we also made cinnamon rolls, danishes, and scones!

It was really nice to get out together.  This past year has been crazy busy and we've gotten out of the habit of date night.  Now we're getting back to it and it's wonderful.

Not to mention that it's always fun to learn and try new things.  If you're never taken a hands-on baking or cooking class I would highly recommend it.  There's probably one in your area if you just google around a bit.

Put the Book Down
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 February 2015, 10:00 am
This isn't a post about reading less.

This is about the fact that I can't ever abandon a book part way through.

It's been a curse and a blessing in a way for my whole life.  If I manage to get past the first real chapter of a book I will finish it.  Always.

It's gotten me to read things I wouldn't typically.  It's pushed me out of my comfort zone.  It's exposed me to a lot of different books.

Lately, it's driving me crazy.

I just finished reading a string of books that were slow and uninteresting.  I hated that I had to slog through them before I felt like I could move on to the next book.  For some of them I had to pick up the audiobook version just so I could finish.  I was that sick of reading the words on the page.  It's not like me to feel mad or upset about finishing a book.  It's a new feeling.

That's why I'm giving myself permission to put a book down, in the middle of reading it, and walk away from it forever.  It's going to be a hard thing to get used to, but at this point I need to do it.  I value my free time and I don't have much at the moment.  I want to enjoy my time with books.

Hopefully this works.  Today I stopped reading a book and mentally put it away forever.  I hope I can continue to do so if I find myself disliking a book while I'm reading it.  I think it will help me enjoy books more overall.

FF Sidequest: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 January 2015, 10:00 am

Wow, that post title looks weird with multiple colons in it.

Anyway.... HELLO!

This is my first Final Fantasy Sidequest post.  I've been playing Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call a little bit here and there ever since it released on 3DS last September.  I thought it was finally time to write about it.

It's really good!

I rarely play it for more than 15 minutes in one sitting, but it keeps drawing me back for more.  It's been out for over four months and I'm still playing it.  That should say a lot about it.

It does have a huge pedigree of amazing music to pull from.  That's easily the best part of the game.  The music selection from the Final Fantasy series is just fantastic.  They have it sorted by game and music type which makes it simple to find the track you're hunting for.

The main thing that makes this so much better than the original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy game are the control options.  I tried the original game and absolutely hated the touch controls.  The touch controls just didn't fit the game well and they were the only option.  That's no longer the case!  Now I'm able to use touch controls, all buttons controls, or a hybrid mix of touch and buttons controls.

I tried all the different control configurations the first day I got the game.  The button controls were the winner by far.  I haven't even thought about going back to touch controls.  Buttons are so much better for this game.

There's some nice variety in unlockables, quests, and song medleys in this game.  They'll keep you entertained and add some fun diversions.  They're nice but they're not the main draw.  The draw of the game is the music.  The amazing Final Fantasy music.

You need to get this game if you love Final Fantasy music the way I do.  It's wonderful.

Final Fantasy Project Article List

That Familiar MMO Feeling
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 January 2015, 10:00 am
The title of this post could be taken a number of ways, but I didn't mean it in a good way.  I'm less than a month into Final Fantasy XIV after more than four years away from MMOs... and I'm already getting sick of the grind.

After playing so many single player games I can easily see where they are artificially inflated grind between meaningful events.  I know it's because it's an MMO and they need to extend their content.  They need to keep people subscribed.  But, this amount of extra time and grind would never hold up in a single player game.

I'm already sick of it less than one month in.  I'm pretty sure that doesn't bode well for my future with MMOs.

I knew this was liable to happen if I tried out a MMO again.  I just didn't anticipate it happening so fast.

It makes me realize how much I wish I could check out other MMOs for the core content without all the MMO trappings.  I would love to experience all the storyline quests in Star Wars: The Old Republic but the thought of grinding through levels and bullshit filler quests to get there is infuriating.

I've heard that Star Wars: The Old Republic tends to offer big experience point boosts to their subscribers.  If they had an XP boost big enough so that I never had to do the bullshit MMO filler I might actually try the game out.  But even then I'm still paying a subscription fee monthly, which is lame.

What I really want is a single player version of these games with only the core story content.  I want to buy it once and not have to pay a monthly subscription fee.

I'm just a jaded MMO veteran at this point.

I'll continue with Final Fantasy XIV until I either run out of playtime or finish the main storyline.  After that, chances are good that I will not be renewing my subscription.  The only reason I'm willing to keep giving it my time is that the game is a mainline Final Fantasy title.  Without that, I would have thrown in the towel already.

Goodbye Joystiq, I will miss you
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 January 2015, 10:00 am

The rumor of the last couple days, backed up by tweets from employees of the company, is that Joystiq is being shut down by it's parent company AOL.

That sucks.

Joystiq is one of the best places for gaming news online.  I've had them in my RSS feed for as long as I can remember.

From time to time, as I've played various MMOs, I've also followed the work of their subsites like WoW Insider and Massively.

Joystiq does such great work and they're one of only three gaming news sites that I actually look at every article they post.  If they're gone their is going to be a hole in my gaming news and I don't know where I'm going to turn to fill it.

The other two sites that I look at every article from are Polygon and Rock, Paper, Shotgun.  But I need to get news from multiple sources.  If Joystiq really goes under I'll be in search of a new general gaming news site.  I would rather not turn toward the Kotakus of the world.  They don't do very good work.  Occasionally they've have an article worth reading, but they fail at being a purely news site.

I'm sad because I know there's nothing I can do about Joystiq.  It seems like AOL just doesn't know what to do with them.  It seems to be the fault of AOL not understanding the property that they're sitting on.  It's definitely not the fault of the journalism.

We'll have to wait and see how this plays out, but it's not looking good.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Few Weeks In
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 January 2015, 10:00 am

I hit level 30  in Final Fantasy XIV earlier this week and the pacing came to a grinding halt.  And I do mean grinding.

I was jarred out of the main story because suddenly I needed to go start a secondary Class from level 1 and get them up to level 15.  I've been playing an Archer, so in this case the secondary Class I needed was Pugilist.  I needed to get my secondary Class to 15 so that I could pick up an advanced "Job" that goes on top of my main Archer class.

The Class and Job system isn't really explained well in the game.  I needed to ask some guildmates about it and do some research online to actually figure it out.

In the end, I got Pugilist to 15 which let me pick up the Bard Job for my Archer Class.  It took multiple days and it totally broke me out of my groove.

I finally got back to my level 30 main Class/Job which is now Archer/Bard and found that after level 30 the leveling slows down a lot.  No longer could I fly through the main storyline quests that I was having so much fun with.  I was constantly hitting a level barrier where I would have to go grind for another level before I could progress the main quest.

It's been really disheartening.

I actually liked the pace of the game up to level 30, but now it's wearing on me.  I'm constantly grinding through dungeons and repetitive quests just for experience points so that I can level up.  I do it because I want to see what's next in the main story, but I'm not having as much fun as I was before level 30.

I just want to get on with the main quest.

This amount of grinding would not be acceptable in a single player Final Fantasy game.

It's not all bad though.  Some of the dungeons are fun and I finally have enough of them to add some variety to the duty finder (dungeon finder).  Some of these include the Primals.  Primals are big element creatures that are summons from other Final Fantasy games.  They are very fun to fights against.  I hope there are more to come.  I think it's really cool how they've taking these summons from previous games in the series and turned them into enemies in Final Fantasy XIV.

It's also great how my character is a crystal bearer.  It's such a perfect throwback to the Final Fantasy games of old.  The crystal theme is used well in this case and it never feels shoehorned in.

There are a couple other little things bugging me at this point.

I was having a conversation with a friend in-game as I entered a dungeon.  Little did I know, you can't send private messages in dungeons.  Our conversation got cut off mid-thought.  It was extremely annoying.

The last thing to mention is the gold seller problem.  I'm constantly getting private messages from gold sellers trying to sell me in-game currency.  It's a much bigger problem in this MMO compared to others I've played in the past.

I guess I don't have any big conclusions for you at the moment.  I'm over half way through  the main story and these are just my general feelings and thoughts at this point in the game.

I'm still attempting to finish the main storyline before I feel like I can call Final Fantasy XIV "finished".  Hopefully I make it before my paid time expires.

Final Fantasy Project Article List

Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 January 2015, 10:00 am
I'm not a comic book guy.  I never really have been.  And while I love webcomics like Penny-Arcade I don't think I've ever bought a physical comic book in my life.

There have been two times when I waded into the shallow end of the comic book pool.

The first time was when one of my roommates in college gave my PDFs of comic series he thought I would like.  It basically ended up being the entire run of Walking Dead and Y The Last Man.  Neither series had been finished at that point but I read everything that had been released at the time.  While it didn't get me to run out and buy the next entry in each series, it did show me that modern comic books aren't all boring superheroes rehashing the same events and situations.

My second exposure was a year or two ago on free comic book day when I learned about Comixology.  It's an app, web interface, and online store where you can buy comics digitally.  They were offering something like the first issue of 40 different comic series for free.  I downloaded all of the free comics and found a bunch I liked.

In that process I found that a Penny-Arcade spin-off comic about the Lookouts was available on Comixology.  I actually paid for the entire series.  Those were the first, and only, comics that I've ever purchased.

Until last week.

Last week this happened.

Star Wars #1 by Marvel was released and it sold over a million copies.  I guess that's a huge benchmark in the comic book world.  I did some research and found out that typically the biggest and most eventful comics will max out around 250,000 sales.  One million sales is just unheard of.

It's the first Star Wars comic that is canon to the franchise.  Until very recently the license for Star Wars comics was held by Dark Horse.  They've made comics in the universe since the early 90s.  With Disney acquiring the Star Wars franchise they have handed over the reigns to Marvel, wiped away the entire comic backlog from Dark Horse, and are starting fresh.

Everything in the comics from this issue forward is canon and will effect the universe going forward.

If you can't tell by now, I bought it.  I snagged it through Comixology since I'm already familiar with their store.  It's a good start to a series that I plan on keeping up with.

Maybe this is what will finally get me to become a comic guy.  But maybe not.  Maybe I'm just a Star Wars guy.  I'm ok with it, either way.

NES Remix 2
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 January 2015, 10:00 am

I finally got around to trying out NES Remix 2 on my Wii U yesterday and I found it surprisingly fun.

I bought and played NES Remix 1 when it released but was underwhelmed by the game.  This series takes small portions of various Nintendo Entertainment System games and samples them.  It gives a taste of each game while giving you minor challenges and teaching you the basic mechanics.  Then it gives bonus stages that remix everything you know about the games.

While NES Remix 1 wasn't fantastic, it was an interesting format.  It's major failing was the games that it sampled from.  They were all very early NES games and the majority weren't great.

NES Remix 2 solves this problem by pulling from later NES games.  I'm having so much more fun with this second entry in the series than I did with the first.  It's giving me a feel for a bunch of games that I never tried, which is really fun.  It's also a blast from the past since it gives me a chance to replay bits of games I liked as a kid.

NES Remix 2 is probably worth the asking price on Wii U.  Take a look at it if you haven't yet.

That being said, I don't think I would buy another game in this series if it sampled from more NES games again.  But, if they started diving into their Super Nintendo backlog... that's a whole different story.

Counting Calories With MyFitnessPal
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 January 2015, 10:00 am

I should really write about all the health/fitness apps I use, but for right now I want to talk about MyFitnessPal.  The others might come up in the course of writing this anyway.

One of the things to do when you're trying to get healthier or change your diet is to start counting calories.  Since I'm doing that right now I wanted to write about this app because it's the best calorie counter that I've found.

It's an app and also a website.  All the information syncs between the two.

It has a huge library of food that is easily searchable.  Any user can submit new food to it.  Other users can then confirm nutritional info as correct and it will end up in their general library for everyone to use.

The last time I used it was over 6 months ago and since then they've added a new feature.  Scanning barcodes!  I can't believe how easy this makes it to track calories.  Just point your phone at the barcodes of food or ingredients as you pull them out to make a meal.  It's database is really good at giving you the exact information for different brand name foods.

MyFitnessPal also lets you set goals and adjusts calorie requirements to help you reach them.  It's nice that it will do that for you and you don't have to manually adjust calorie goals from week to week.

It also integrates with other apps and services.  I use it with Runkeeper and a Withings scale.  It works flawlessly with them.

I step on my Withings scale every morning and my info is synced to their service, which updates my weight in MyFitnessPal.

Whenever I do physical activity I turn on Runkeeper and monitor my running, walking, or biking.  Once an activity is completed it automatically uploads the activity and how many calories I burned to MyFitnessPal.

The MyFitnessPal app also works with the built in step tracker in iOS8.  As I move around throughout the day MyFitnessPal will add my steps tracked through my iPhone to my daily exercise and adjust my calories accordingly.

Basically I'm using these apps in conjunction to automate monitoring my health as much as possible.  It still requires a little bit of work, but with my current setup it's less than 5 minutes of effort for me each day.

I would highly suggest checking out MyFitnessPal.  Especially if you've thought about tracking your calories before but have never gotten around to it.  It's awesome and completely free.

Most Anticipated Game of the 2015
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 January 2015, 10:00 am
I know we're almost done with January already, but I keep reading articles and posts about most anticipated games of 2015.  And nothing has really released yet this year.

This got me thinking.  What's my most anticipated game of 2015?  When I took some time to think about it I was kind of surprised by my answer.

Bravely Second!

I've obviously been on a Final Fantasy kick lately, and Bravely Default was my favorite game of the last year.  So when I really looked at games targeted to release in 2015 it's Bravely Second that stands out above the rest.

I loved Bravely Default's JRPG style brought to us with some updates for the modern era.  If Bravely Second maintains that and evens out the pacing of the story it should be an amazing game.

Pushing 30
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 January 2015, 10:00 am
I'm pushing 30.  At least that's what my wife says to me when we're being sarcastic with each other.  Don't worry, I say it right back to her.

I'm 28.  30 doesn't really scare me, but I do know I'm getting to the point in my life where I need to take better care of my body if I want to keep it for the long haul.  My body won't just maintain itself like it did when I was a teenager or in my early twenties.

For the past 6 years I've been trying to exercise regularly and mostly failing.  I started running for fun and exercise about a year before my daughter was born but was never able to get on a regular running schedule.  Between our pregnancies, having kids, and a few job changes I just haven't had a steady schedule for any long period of time.

It's hard to make fitness a habit when your schedule changes a lot.  But I keep trying.

I try to do something physical every day.  Typically this is a run, but sometimes it's walking or getting on the stationary bike for awhile.  Now that our kids are old enough I have some flexibility in my schedule and I've gotten pretty good at making activity a regular occurrence.  It doesn't happen every day but it's rare for me to miss more than a few days in a row.

With exercise finally starting to feel like a lifestyle instead of a struggle I turned to my eating habits.

This has been much more difficult for me.  I was always the pickiest kid I knew when it came to food.  It wasn't until my patient wife slowly and carefully started to expand my palette in my twenties that I ate more than a handful of foods.

But learning to eat clean and healthy is a completely different hurdle.  Finding food that is healthy that I don't hate is hard.  I'm smart, I do my research, and I know about a lot of healthy food.  But my pickiness means that I can't realistically eat most of those.  If I try to I'm just setting myself up for disappointment because I won't stick to it.

I needed a new set of staple foods that I can eat every day and not get sick of.  My wife has been helping me for the past month or two and I've finally found a few that I can stomach.

For the past two weeks I've had a few sets meals to pick from.
  • Stir Fry with Chicken, Snow Peas, and Noodles
  • Pan fried Chicken Breast with a Starch (usually potatoes)
  • Scrambled Eggs with Cheese, Toast, and Orange Juice
  • Turkey on Whole Wheat Bread with a small portion of Chips
This doesn't sound like a lot of variety, but it's enough for me.  I've been used to only having a few staple foods my entire life because of how picky I am.  The key for me was replacing my unhealthy staple foods with healthy ones.

My meals aren't packed full of healthy foods either.  None of those "super foods" or fads of the week would ever work for me.  Instead, I picked food that I enjoy and is generally high in protein.  This way a meal makes me feel full for longer and I have a bunch of slow-burning energy.

I wasn't overweight before starting this food plan, but I wasn't in the optimal weight range for my age either.  I'm already seeing progress toward hitting my weight goal.  From my starting weight I only need to lose about 15 pounds to be in the correct range for my height.  I'm already over a third of the way there.  If I hit that goal I'll probably try to lose more and get into the optimal weight range, but I'm not thinking about that yet.

The important thing for me is how I feel on a day to day basis.  And after only a couple weeks of eating better I'm feeling great!

Final Fantasy XIV: Initial Impressions
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 January 2015, 10:00 am

This is currently the last entry in the mainline series and I needed to give it a shot.  I was actually really excited to get into a MMO since I haven't played one since World of Warcraft in February of 2011.

Before I start, you should probably know where I stand with MMOs.  My first true MMO was Everquest when it originally released.  I played it for the first years of it's life through the second expansion.  I tried out a few MMOs after that but World of Warcraft was the only one that ever stuck for more than a month.  I played it a little bit with each expansion through Cataclysm.  Basically, I would play until max level and then let me subscription lapse.  Overall, I've probably sampled 10 different MMOs over the years for a month at a time.

Final Fantasy XIV is my first MMO in almost four years.

As I understand it, I'm actually playing the second version of the game.  The original game launched in 2010 with tons of issues and caused lots of unhappiness with players.  A new producer was brought on and the entire game was reworked and relaunched as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in 2013.

Currently, I've played up to level 20 and I'm having a lot of fun with it so far.  It's definitely not a single player Final Fantasy game, but it's much better than most MMOs.

It's very cinematic in the main story questline.  There are cutscenes and voice acting for all the important events.  I really like seeing that in a MMO.  Although, the main story takes too long to unfold.  It feels like arbitrarily low stakes and a slow reveal just because I'm a low level in a MMO.  If this were a single player game the story would have taken off by now.

The game has a distinct Final Fantasy feel.  From the look of the world, the jobs, the chocobos, the airships, and especially the music.  I can tell the developers of Final Fantasy XIV are pulling from their vast experience with the series.  I truly appreciate it.  Having the name Final Fantasy attached is what got me interested in this game so it's good that the game reflects the series.

The biggest drawbacks for me are common MMO complaints.  Leveling is too slow.  Groups can be hard to find, even with the Duty Finder (group finder).  There are unimaginative quest hubs all over.  Those quest hubs don't have enough content to level you up sufficiently.

Hotbar combat is the same as it's ever been.  There are no cool and unique battle systems to write about like I have for the other Final Fantasy games.  Enemies are the typical "don't stand in the fire" while keeping your optimal ability rotation going.

None of this was unexpected, but I'm a little jaded with typical MMO design.

There are other things I like about Final Fantasy XIV.  My Free Company (guild) is made up of a bunch of cool bloggers and twitter people I know.  I can play my character on the same server across both PC and PS4.  I never have to make an alt because one character can become every class and job in the game.  Just switch weapons to a different class and your character starts leveling it from wherever you last left off.  Player housing seems interesting and well done.  Character creation had a ton of options.  The dungeons are pretty fun.

I'm planning on playing Final Fantasy XIV until I either complete the main story quest or I run out of game time.  When one of those happens I'll reassess if I want to keep playing.

I already know I'm not going to put this into my Final Fantasy rankings when I write my wrap-up post.  It's just not the same comparing a MMO to the rest of the single player series.  I love the single player games so much.  I know I wouldn't be fair to the one MMO of the bunch if I were to rank it.

Final Fantasy Project Article List

What's Next for the Final Fantasy Project?
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 January 2015, 10:00 am


I don't feel like I'm done.  It took a long time, but I did it, I finished Final Fantasy I through XIII!  I'm super proud of myself, but now that I've done it I feel like I have at least one more thing to do.

I need to try out FFXIV.

I wrote a post for FFXI with my impressions from long ago even though I had originally intended to skip the MMOs altogether.  I should at least devote a post to FFXIV, but that means I need to play it.

I wanted to weigh in on every mainline game in the series and I would feel bad if I left out the fourteenth entry in the main series.  I'm not promising I'll reach endgame or anything.  It's still a MMO and will never actually end.  But, at this point, I really need to give it a shot.  I don't want my Final Fantasy Project to be missing a crucial game.

The other thing I'm going to continue to do is my Final Fantasy Project Sidequests series.  These are offshoots of the mainline series and I plan on doing impressions of some of them, full playthroughs of others, and skip over a few of them.

I've spent a bunch of time with Thetarhythm Final Fantasy lately, I just haven't written about it yet.

I'm especially excited to get back to the Final Fantasy Tactics series.  I liked Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2 but I have never played the original game.  I'm probably going to play the War of the Lions version which is a remaster of the original.

I also want to get around to replaying FFX-2.  I enjoyed the battle system a lot the first time I played it.  And now that I like FFXIII I'm starting to think about giving FFXIII-2 a shot.

That's where we stand.  It's not over yet.  Expect posts about last entry in the mainline series soon.  I'll most likely do a true wrap-up post after that.  I just don't feel like I'm done yet.

Final Fantasy Project Article List

No More Club Nintendo
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 January 2015, 8:49 am

Earlier today Nintendo gave notice that they're discontinuing their Club Nintendo program.  I've been a member of Club Nintendo for the past couple years and I really liked it.  I'm sad to see it go.

There have been times when the club reward offerings weren't great, but there have also been times with fantastic physical and digital goods exclusive to Club Nintendo.  I picked up my 3DS XL charging cradle through the program as well as the soft case I use to carry my 3DS XL around in my backpack.  Not to mention the handful of classic Nintendo games I've grabbed for virtual console through the club.

It's not all bad.  I truly hope this signals Nintendo's intention to turn over a new leaf when it comes to digital offerings.

Historically, Nintendo has been really bad at online stuff in general, lagging far behind Microsoft and Sony.  They're infamous friend code system for adding friends online.  The bad matchmaking and often unplayable online multiplayer.  And, more importantly in this case, how much they've failed at user accounts.

Games and software still aren't tied to Nintendo Network ID.  At this point that is unforgivable.  Every other company associates software with the account it's activated on.  This allows for so many benefits and ease of transportation between devices.  Nintendo still ties software to the hardware it's activated on.  It's super frustrating.

If your 3DS is stolen and you want to get your software back on a new 3DS they require you to file a police report, send them a copy of it, have one of their staff dig through your purchase history to find out what games you've purchase, then refund you the money you spent into your Nintendo Network wallet, at which point you can finally re-purchase your software.  If your Vita is stolen and you buy a new one you simply log in to your account and you have access to your software.

Nintendo is behind the times in the digital world.

While I'm sad that Club Nintendo is being discontinued, I'm really hoping that this is a signal that Nintendo may be turning over a new leaf in the digital space.  In a perfect world they would unify all their accounts, tie software to Nintendo ID, and integrate some of kind reward program through it as well.  A fully integrated account for all my Nintendo systems and software would be amazing.

Only time will tell.  They seem to their own thing over there.  I mean, who knows when it comes to Nintendo?

Bike and Game
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 January 2015, 10:00 am
I'm a runner.  I run for exercise multiple times per week.  At least, I do when it's not winter.

This is the first full winter that my family has been in our house.  We live in Minnesota which means that running in the winter isn't a viable option.  There's either too much snow or it's too cold out (-15 F last week) to run outside.  In the past I've had a treadmill while living with my parents, going to college, and living in apartments with my wife.  We don't have room for a treadmill in our townhouse but I decided I needed to do something to stay active all winter.

So I found a stationary bike that doesn't take up much room and can be folded up and put away if needed.  It was ok at first.  Not as good as running but still ok.  It gave me the something physical I needed even if it wasn't as enjoyable as running.

But very quickly I realized I could move the bike over in front of our main TV.  This is the TV with our PS4 and Wii U hooked up to it.  You see where this is going, right?

Now I bike daily while playing games.  I make progress in whatever the game of the month is.  Or I spend time with my evergreen games like Mario Kart 8, Smash Brothers, and Race the Sun.  Mario Kart 7 is especially motivating.  My body seems to think if I pedal faster I can drive faster in the game.

It's amazing!  I get to combine the exercise I need with the gaming I love.

I'm already seeing a ton of benefits.  I'm more consistent with exercise than I've ever been and I know it's because I have access to entertainment to distract me.  I don't have to worry so much about how my muscles are feeling or if I'm out of breath.  I just play my game of choice and occasionally glance at the bike odometer.

I've been able to go further and faster by keeping my mind off the exercise.  Occupying my mind seems to let me accomplish much more physically.

Not to mention that I'm often listening to a podcast at the same time.  I overload my brain with enough mental processes that I don't think about how hard it is to keep going.

My biking distances have skyrocketed compared to the first week I was biking without entertainment.

This whole thing makes me tempted to buy a Steambox and stream games from my new PC to my TV.  I'm still very happy with what I'm playing, but a wider selection of games is always nice.

I'm excited for the snow to melt and the spring to arrive.  But, until then, I'll be happily pedaling away while my mind is on something fun.

Final Fantasy XIII: Wrap-Up
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 January 2015, 10:00 am

I finished the game!  This one felt a like it took longer since the holidays happened while I was in the middle of playing, but I finished it!  And, surprisingly, I really liked it.

Before starting the Final Fantasy Project I thought that Final Fantasy XIII was going to end up very near the bottom of my list.  I hated this game by the time I finished my first playthrough of it.  I thought I would have to suffer through the entire game again.  Imagine my surprise to find myself truly enjoying the game.

It's not without it's flaws, but the biggest difference this time around were my expectations of the game.  Every person has a different expectation for a game with Final Fantasy in the title, and the first time I played Final Fantasy XIII my expectations were so different than what the game actually was.  Now, years later, the game hasn't changed at all but my expectations of it have.

This time I went into the game knowing that it would be linear, that there would be no sidequests, no open world to explore, no towns full of NPCs to interact with.  This is a game with a linear story to tell and an interesting battle system to keep players entertained along the way.  Once I wrapped my head around that, I stopped worrying about my old feelings and just enjoyed playing.

There are still two major flaws I ran into in Final Fantasy XIII.

The first is pacing.  I changed my mentality and learned to love the linear story for what it is and it was great for the first 10 chapters of the game.  Then chapter 11 hit.  The pace slowed to a crawl.  There's a ton of uninteresting, yet required, grinding that happens in chapter 11.  Once I reached chapter 12 things seemed to pick up slightly but the pacing never again got as good as it was during the first 10 chapters of the game.  Chapters 11-13 just seemed to drag on for too long.  But then the game ended and I was mostly satisfied with the ending.

My other main issue with Final Fantasy XIII is how badly they present the world to the player.  By the end of your time with it you mostly understand the terms the characters have been throwing around all game, but it would go a long way to help new players if the terms were explicitly spelled out in the beginning of the game.  During my first playthrough, the story made almost no sense to me.  This time I did a little pre-research and I was fine.

And yes, I know there is a "Datalog" in the game with lots of information.  But if it's critical information it should be presented to the player during the course of playing the game.  It shouldn't be buried in a submenu that most people will never bother to look at.

Those were really the only two things that still bugged me by the end of the game.  Besides that, I really enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy XIII.  It's going to end up much higher in my ranking than I thought.  I'm putting it at number 3.  I'm amazed I'm putting it at number 3, but after playing through the game again I think it deserves to be there.

As a note, I should mention that the Steam PC version worked great for me the entire playthrough.  Mid-way through my playthrough Square Enix pushed a patch to enable 1080p resolution and more graphics options.  The game now looks fantastic.  And the Steam cloud sync of save files let me keep playing easily despite building a new replacement PC in the middle of my playthrough.  I can whole heartedly recommend this version just as much as the console versions.

Final Fantasy Ranking
1. IX
2. X
5. VII
6. VI
7. IV
8. V
9. XII
10. II
11. I
12. III

Total Completion Time: 33 hrs 29 mins

Final Fantasy Project Article List

Go Fish!
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 January 2015, 10:00 am
One of the coolest parts of being a parent is watching your kids turn into fully functional human beings.  I guess what I mean by that is watching them grow up.

For so long you're stuck in state of constantly taking care of their every need.  And they need a lot.  But then, eventually, they start to do some things for themselves.

They get better and better at doing things and then one day they are basically a fully functional, but little, human being.

I bring this up to say that my daughter is four and it's awesome!  She plays games with me on iPad and Wii U all the time.  We just got her first console (that she's in charge of) for Christmas when we got her a 2DS.  And now she's starting to play tabletop games!

Yesterday I got home and was greeted with her asking, "Daddy, will you play Go Fish with me?"

I'm trying to raise little gamers, so whenever she asks to play something I always say yes.  And it was a blast!  I love watching her as her mind processes the game and figures out what to do.  She's slowly wrapping her mind around it and it's amazing to watch.

Each new game she and her younger brother pick up is a step toward having a gaming family.

I love it.

Things I Learned by Sampling Way Too Many Steam Games
Posted by A Green Mushroom [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 January 2015, 10:00 am

I Played a lot of Games

In total I sampled 66 Steam games that have been sitting in my library, unplayed.  The last 22 posts leading up to this one have been my impressions of them.  While it may seem to you, dear reader, like I played them over the course of many weeks the truth is different.  I crammed all these games into the space of one week, between Christmas and New Years.

It gave me a great chance to put my new PC through its paces and it finally let me sort through my huge Steam backlog.

What did I learn?  Let me tell you...

Having a Controller is Key

There were so many games that I tried which would be next to impossible to play with only a mouse and keyboard.  There is another big selection of games in my library that can be played with mouse and keyboard, but are much better with a controller.

My go to controller is from my dead Xbox 360.  The console is dead, but the controllers are all in fully functional.  I keep one near my PC and it works perfectly with the sync station I have plugged in via USB.  Or, if you don't already have a wireless one laying around you can grab the wired variety.  It connects directly to a PC via USB with no sync station required.  But honestly, the sync stations sell for like $5 so it's probably worth it to get rid of the wires.

The Xbox 360 controller is quickly becoming the industry standard PC controller.  All of the games I tried it with recognized it immediately and needed no configuration from me.

Long Intros Suck

Let me play your game!  Don't make me wait through twenty minutes of bullshit.

Give me a taste of your gameplay in the first five minutes of the game.  By the end of trying 66 different games the story didn't matter at all.  I was trying to get a feel for the game and that required gameplay.  The gameplay I wanted to sample was often buried behind ten to twenty minutes of intros, cutscenes, character creators, and whatever else.

Hook me on the gameplay first, then hit me with your story and worldbuilding.  Not the other way around.

A lot of developers suck at making trailers

Show off the cool part of your game!  Not the intro, title screen, preamble, or awards!

I was trying to embed videos with my impressions whenever it made sense, but so many of the game trailers were horrible or didn't show off the gameplay at all.  Many of the videos were made up primarily of text listing awards or critical reception.  Another handful were cinematic intros to the games that didn't give any kind of impression of gameplay whatsoever.

I know a game developer might not be a professional video editor... but maybe they should hire one.

Limited Mental Energy for Epic RPGs

I tried out a bunch of RPGs and almost none of them stuck.  The only one that truly grabbed my attention was Valkyria Chronicles.  I barely even remember the other RPGs I tried.

I need to love the setting, the battle system, and the characters for the game to have any chance of sticking.  Even if I have all those things I might not be able to buy into the game if it isn't from a series or developer I already love.  I only have so much mental energy to put toward these huge games.

It takes something truly special or unique to hold my attention in an RPG.  I know that if I commit to an RPG I'm almost always committing more than 20 hours of my time to that game, if not 40 or 100.  RPGs are epic in length and if they don't wow me early, I'm not going to commit to the time it takes to play them.

Lots of Kickstarting, Not Much Playing

I kickstarted a lot of games that are now in full release.  I had barely played any of them.  I was surprised by how many of my backlog games were Kickstarters that I backed and never even tried the finished product.

This is definitely going to give me pause in the future when I look at Kickstarting games.  Unless I'm super passionate about a game, it seems to be a better idea to just wait.

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