Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Mass Effect Andromeda

So, I have never played any of the Mass Effect games before.  I hear they're great.  But I just don't really care for shooters.  Never have.  Probably never will.  They're just not fun to me.  My brother, a Mass Effect fanatic has been trying to get me to play the games for years now.  So this year, for Christmas, he got me all 4.  So I guess that means I now have to play them, whether I want to or not.

So, my brother suggested that I start with Andromeda as it isn't really connected story-wise to the trilogy, and it's also the worst one, so best to get it out of the way first.  So, I follow video game news every now and then.  I don't really have a huge amount of time for games these days, so I like to see what's coming, and what kind of reviews it's getting when it comes out, so I can pick and choose which games I'll spend my limited time and money on.  I also find epic failures by AAA game studios to be somewhat amusing.  So when Mass Effect Andromeda came out and had all kinds of graphical glitches, and hilariously bad facial animations, I watched videos of how bad things were, chuckled to myself, and moved on with my life.  This game seems to be just universally hated by everyone, not just for not living up to the Mass Effect name, but also for being a broken, unfinished mess.

Now, I played this game 2 years after release, and when I popped the disc into my PS4 I had to download a 6 GB patch before I could play.  This suggests to me that a lot of the graphical errors and nightmare fuel facial animations have been patched, as I didn't notice many as I played through the game.  There were still a few bugs.  I had some freezing errors, and the game crashed on me once while I was fighting the last boss.  Every now and then a character will be looking off in a weird direction during a conversation.  And one time while talking to a character all dialog options that did not lead to a sex scene were grayed out so I was forced by the game to have sex with my least favorite character.  Hurray.  But I saw none of the horrifically bad crap that people made videos about in the beginning.  For the most part, the game ran pretty smoothly, and the facial animations we pretty on par with other AAA games I've played this console generation.

So, that being said, and a reminder that this is the ONLY Mass Effect game I have played.  I LOVED IT!!! I seriously do not know why this game gets so much hatred.  It's one of the better open world games I've ever played.  As good as The Witcher 3 might be, I've never finished it.  I'll play a bit, get bored and do something else, come back, play a bit, get bored and go do something else.  Mass Effect Andromeda I played straight through without feeling bored at all.  I took the week between Christmas and New Years off to recover from working through Christmas, and I've done very little this week but play through this game.

I was expecting an unfinished, broken mess of a game that was devoid of content.  But what I got was a pretty fun to play open world game that just bombards you with things to do.  My biggest complaint about most open world games is that it's a huge open world with nothing to do in it.  That was NOT the case here.  I was just playing through the story and talking to the people in my crew at first, then I looked at my quest long, and just doing that I had literally dozens of side quests flagged that I could do.  The exploration actually plays a part in the story.  There are a lot of fun puzzles to solve.  A lot of the side quests that I completed had interesting and fun stories.  I enjoyed the snarkiness of the main character, and had fun with a few of the crew members that you collect.  One I found unbearably annoying, and a couple sort of just faded into the background, but I generally liked the ones I played with most.  While I don't really care for shooters, the combat was pretty straightforward and fun enough, I guess.  Again, not really my thing, but it played well enough that I didn't mind so much.  Also, the game has an easy mode, which I played on to make up for my natural lack of aptitude with shooters.  The visuals are pretty great, even if the character animations are a bit wonky sometimes, and your character runs like he/she has something stuffed up his/her butt.  The worlds, the transitions of your ship flying around, all of the cutscenes, the graphics were pretty darn good.

I did not even touch the online multiplayer aspect of the game.  That is really just not my thing.  I don't enjoy shooters, and I definitely do not enjoy shooters where I'm forced to play with other people who are lightyears better at it than I am.  I never really got the appeal of that sort of thing.  Imagine my sheer annoyance with EA that 2 out of the only 3 Star Wars games to come out in the last 10 years have been online only shooters.  Anyway, I can't speak to the quality or lack thereof of that aspect of the game, since I avoid that type of gameplay like the plague.

I really liked the story, and about half of the characters, and I had a lot of fun playing it.  I honestly do not know why this game is so hated, because I really, really liked it.  If this is the worst game in the series, I can't wait to play the rest of them.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Why I never thought the Star Wars Prequels were all that bad, and other Star Wars-y thoughts

I'm going to say something that many people might find somewhat unbelievable.  I don't hate the Star Wars prequels.  I actually kind of like them.  Are the the best Star Wars movies?  Nope.  Do I care?  Not really.  And I never really did.   There are two aspects that go into this.  The first is quickly and easily explained:  I just love Star Wars.  It doesn't really matter if it's boringly shot, with terrible direction, actors that look lost and bewildered, and dialog so bad it could peel paint, overuse of CGI that has NOT aged well.  It's still Star Wars, and I still love Star Wars.

My second reason is this:  By the time that the prequels began coming out, I had read a good decade's worth of Star Wars Expanded Universe novels.  There are some real gems amongst the SWEU, Like Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, and Kevin J. Anderson's Jedi Academy trilogy.  (although the latter is kind of terrible, it was just terrible in a very entertaining way)  And then there were books like The New Rebellion.  The Truce at Bakura.  The Courtship of Princess Leia.  Anything with Babara Hambly's name on it.  The Black Fleet Crisis.  The Corellian Trilogy, where 35 pages of the first book were taken up with a masturbatorily long landing scene involving a character we'd never seen before and didn't give two shits over whether or not she landed safely, and it only got worse from there.  Anything with James Luceno's name on it.  Anything Karen Traviss has ever even glanced at, much less written. Anything with Christie Golden's name on it.  Anything with Troy Denning's name on it.  Anything with Aaron Allston's name on it, especially the second half of the X-wing series.  And R.A. Salvatore.  Really?  They got freaking R.A. Salvatore to write a Star Wars book(which was utter garbage).  The Young Jedi Knights series.  The vast and overwhelming majority of the New Jedi Order that had been released at the time.  Oh, and that beautiful gem of absolute wtf-ery, the Crystal Star. 

My point is that by the time the Star Wars prequels began coming out, I'd read an entire decade of Star Wars stories that were much, MUCH worse.  Worse written.  Far less consistent.  Lobotomized characters from the Original Trilogy.  Things that just plain do not make sense however you try to wrap your brain around it.  I'm looking at YOU Crystal Star!  So when the Prequels came out, I thought, well, I mean, it's not great, but I've read worse.  When you compare the prequel trilogy to any number of Star Wars novels that I mentioned above, they are actually far superior stories, despite their flaws.  Even Attack of the Clones, which is my least favorite Star Wars movie, has things that I like in it.  It's easy to say you hate something, but hatred isn't really what I feel for that movie.  Sure, Luke and Leia were, apparently, born because someone forced two people who clearly do not like one another to bump uglies at gunpoint, and like, every single bad thing that happens in the Star Wars universe after that point would probably have been averted had Obi-Wan taken two seconds to apply even a cursory amount of logic to the situation, but there are still things I enjoy about the movie.  Anakin riding a speeder bike to find his mother as the suns set behind him.  It's beautiful imagery, fake as shit, beautiful imagery.  The arena fight, and subsequent battle.  John freaking Williams!  (who btw has a cameo in The Rise of Skywalker).  The speeder chase at the beginning of the movie.  Jarjar barely being in the movie.  There are things to like, even if they're not very well put together.  It's still a Star Wars movie, and I still love Star Wars.  And though it may be the least of the 11 current movies, it's still lightyears better than the Crystal freaking Star.

So yeah, that's why I've never really hated, and actually kind of liked the Star Wars prequels.

Now some thoughts on the Rise of Skywalker, which will be spoiler free.  I liked it.  In fact, I actually kind of loved it.  But at the same time, it does have issues.  This movie feels like exactly what it is.  Lucasfilm in full on damage control mode after The Last Jedi.  While I enjoyed The Last Jedi when it first came out, I've had two years to think on it, and the more I think about it, the more I find in it that I don't like.  It was a beautifully made film, but it had some insanely bad pacing issues, some very large leaps of logic, and it didn't really respect characters that had been my heroes for as long as I can remember.  I don't hate it, but there's a bit less to like about it than I thought upon first seeing it.  HOWEVER, there is a very vocal part of the fanbase who absolutely flipped their shit about the movie, and this part of the fanbase organized a boycott of the next Star Wars movie, Solo, which caused the movie to bomb pretty hard.  Lucasfilm and Disney highly underestimated just how much backlash they were going to get from the film, and, I mean, I just don't see how they could have thought giving the movie to a director notorious for saying "no I don't wanna do that, I think I'll do my own thing" giving him complete creative control, and next to no oversight was going to turn out well, but I just a humble man who doesn't know the workings of billion dollar companies.  When JJ Abrams made The Force Awakens, he did next to 0 planning for the next two movies.  There was a vague sort of outline, but nothing solid.  This, by the way, is NOT how you write a three act story.  If you don't know the ending when you make the beginning it is going to play SERIOUS havoc with the overall tone of the story as a whole across all three films... which it did, to an spectacular degree.  When Rian Johnson stepped up for The Last Jedi, he looked at the bare bones of plot they'd put together for the second film, said I don't like it, and did his own thing.  Which basically threw the ending off balance. 

And then Carrie Fisher, bless her, passed away.  According to her daughter (who plays a small role in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker) The Rise of Skywalker was supposed to be her turn to have the spotlight, and she was very excited for it.  The title "The Last Jedi" actually refers to HER.  She went on to say that when her mother passed away, the script had already been finalized and they were ramping up to begin filming the final film.  Her death meant that even as they were about to start filming, the entire script had to be rewritten.  So, not only did the director of the previous film toss out the plan, and kill off the villain that they were obviously planning on using to the end, the actress meant to play a pivotal role in the film was no longer with us.  And then the fan reaction to The Last Jedi hit.  And then Solo bombed, in part, because of it.  And they really, really had to scramble to put together a film from all the tattered shreds of the movie they were planning to make to both appease fans who were angry about The Last Jedi, and work around Carrie Fisher's absence, and the absence of the villain they'd meant to be the big bad at the end. 

And you can see a lot of the scrambling to put together a movie under these circumstances in the film.  I REALLY do not envy Abrams the task he had in making this movie.

Anyway, the things I felt were not so great about this movie:  The pacing is a bit off.  It's not as egregious as it was in The Last Jedi, but there are some issues.  Also the movie feels very rushed.  I would not be surprised to hear that a good 30 mins had been cut from it.  The final battle against the fleet of Star Destroyers feels very epic UNTIL the moment that it's supposed to BE epic.  I promised no spoilers, so I'm not going to say what that moment is, but anyone who has seen the movie will know.  Before it happens you have this desperate, we have to fight on no matter the odds, feeling to it, and then it just sort of falls asleep.   Wedge not piloting an X-Wing is a waste of Wedge.  Basically every single scene involving the Emperor is very silly, and really kind of stupid (but at the same time Ian McDiarmid is clearly having so much fun playing the character that even though the scenes were kind of stupid, they were an absolute joy to watch.  To quote Red Letter Media, "He's evil and he fucking loves it.")  There's a lot of running around to places that don't really seem necessary to the plot at the beginning of the movie.  The movie tries to have it both ways with Finn and Poe's relationship.  Look, either they're a gay couple, or they aren't.  Quit playing it like they are, then giving them both female love interests in the movie.  The movie goes all in on new force powers, and, well, I have to agree with Brandon Sanderson on that.  It's always better to see characters using things we already know in new and interesting ways than to have them suddenly develop a new ability.  That's called Deus ex Machina, and it's usually frowned upon.  Who Rey actually turns out to be is kind of a little silly.  The Emperor's ultimate goal isn't really fleshed out all that much.  I would be willing to bet there are deleted scenes that explain it better than it was in the theatrical cut of the movie.  He wants Rey to do spoilers.    ..........     Profit?  The ending also feels a little anti-climactic due to the villain that was clearly meant to be there at the end having to be replaced by the Emperor.

So, what did I like about the movie?  I completely loved the scene involving Kylo Ren and a surprising character who shall remain spoilerless.  And I like Kylo Ren's storyline in the movie overall.  The lightsaber fight in/on the Death Star wreckage is really awesome.  Lando was back!  Wedge was back!  The Emperor is something of a joy to watch, because the actor playing him is having the time of his life hamming it up.  C-3PO got ALL of the best jokes.  Finn and Poe's relationship is really entertaining to watch.  They argue like a married couple throughout the movie, and it's really kind of great.  Rey feels more like an actual character in this movie.  It seems as though Abrams listened to a lot of criticism on the character, and went, I feel, a long way towards addressing that criticism.  Rey is seen to be training, and not doing very well at it.  She makes mistakes.  She loses a lightsaber fight.  She is seen to have problems and internal turmoil and shit she has to work through.  You know, like an actual human being, instead of someone who is always perfect at everything.  She loses her temper.  She snaps at people.  She has an actual personality.  She struggles with the Dark Side about as much as we ever saw Luke struggle with it.  All of these were positive, and much needed, changes to her character.  The visuals and music are pretty amazing.  At no point in the movie was I bored.  The movie takes a good step toward fixing some of the damage done to Luke's character done by the previous film.  The movie is nostalgia baiting ALL over the place, and while I've seen some fans call it cynical, I loved it.  The three main characters, Rey, Finn and Poe spend a large portion of the movie together, something that was really missing in The Last Jedi.  Finn feels more like an actual character again, rather than his annoying downgrade to token black guy in the previous movie to make way for Rose, who, thankfully, had very little screen time in this movie.  Nothing against Kelly Marie Tran, but I really did not like her character in The Last Jedi. That's entirely on the writing, not on her.  I am abhorred how fans treated her, but I still do not like the character, and was glad to see less of her.

So, anyway, I really enjoyed the movie.  It's not the best Star Wars movie ever, but it's definitely not the worst.  It was a good ending.  If I could name the biggest problem with the movie, it would be this.  It's act three of a three act story with two act ones and no act two, and because of that, and due to Carrie Fisher's passing, it really had to scramble to pick up the pieces and pull them together into a movie.  But, again, despite it's problems, I felt it was a fun and entertaining movie, and I do not understand why so many people are so angry about it.  Maybe in 2 years time after I've had some time to think about it, I'll understand the other side better, like I did for The Last Jedi.

Anyway, now that we've got some new Star Wars movies, and I've had time to think on some of them more, here's my updated Star Wars Movie Rankings.  Best to worst.  Since I already gave my explanations for my rankings last time I posted my rankings I'll just give the list this time.

1.) The Empire Strikes Back
2.)  Rogue One
3.) Star Wars (A New Hope)
4.) Return of the Jedi
5.) The Force Awakens
6.) The Rise of Skywalker
7.) Revenge of the Sith
8.) Solo
9.) The Last Jedi
10.) The Clone Wars
11.) The Phantom Menace
12.) Attack of the Clones.

And here's my rankings on Star Wars TV series.  Best to worst.

1.) Clone Wars.  Though it has it's fair share of terrible episodes, it makes up for them by the rest of them being really, really good.  This series basically took the Star Wars prequels and said we can fix this.  And they did.  They made the characters (except for Jarjar) more human and likeable.  And made the Clone Wars the huge, destructive conflict that old Obi-Wan speaks of with such reverence in the original movie. The first season is kind of lame, but George Lucas gave them the thumbs up to do more, and dig deeper in following seasons, and they really went for it.

2.) The Mandalorian.  Like a spaghetti western in space.  I enjoy the short episode runtimes, they tell the story and get out.  I like the metric crapton of Baby Yoda memes.  It's just a really fun show to watch, even if the special effects and the acting on side characters are not always that great.

3.) Rebels.  This show is not great.  It's like they took the Clone Wars, stripped it of everything that made it good, and vomited it back out in a boring, annoying mess.  It has it's moments.  Anytime Darth Vader is on screen is awesome to watch, and I liked seeing Grand Admiral Thrawn in a visual medium, (other than the opening cutscene from Tie Fighter) even if he wasn't written very well.  But the main protagonist is unbearable, and it's just not a very fun series to watch most of the time.

4.) Resistance. I watched one episode of this series and said this is not for me.  It's too kiddie for me.  I just found it to be boring and stupid.  And the animation is kind of garbage too.

So there's my obligatory Star Wars rambling following the release of a new Star Wars movie.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

I did a thing.

So, for NaNoWriMo this year I thought to myself, I COULD do final edits on Memories of What Never Was... or I could take a month off from that to keep from going insane and ending up on the news running through downtown in my skivvies with my pants on my head serenading parking meters like I was in some sort of musical, but in real life.  So I looked at what I wrote last year for NaNo, the, as yet, still incomplete first draft of the second book to Memories, and decided that I still needed to hash out a few things in my head on that one before I pick it up again.  I didn't really have anything on the back burner that was ready to go, so I toyed with the idea of just, you know, not participating in NaNo this year.  It can be stressful, and god knows I don't need any more stress in my life.  I mean, do you know what it's like to be 40, unmarried, and have a mother who physically NEEDS grandchildren, while also trying not to keel over during one of the most intensive times of the year at work?  It's like I'm sitting in a flippin' pressure cooker 24/7.  But I couldn't do that.  It would break my 7 year streak of finishing NaNo every year.  So I looked at what I have being stirred by three cryptic witches in a cauldron in the back of my head and pulled up two stories I've been kicking around for the last few years while working on Spires of Infinity and Memories of What Never Was.

One, about a Damsel in Distress that gets kidnapped by the Dark Lord, and then takes over his evil empire because she's more evil than he is, and better at his job, then starts a war with the Great Hero that's trying to rescue and marry her, which I decided not to do, because it still needs some plot points filled in before I start work on it.  And another called Carrying the Weight of the World, which is a very complex epic fantasy standalone that is very hard to describe briefly.  Allow me to try, and fail, to do so.  *ahem* Some dude tore a hole in reality to the realms of the gods and the demons, and all three worlds began to unravel.  At first there was a three way war of extermination going on, before they realized that all of reality would unravel if they didn't come together and do something about it quick.  So they created this thing called the Balance.  An artificial pocket of reality that small parts of their three worlds could escape to, and continue on, while the rest of reality comes apart and ceases to be.  The Balance functions by placing rules on the artificial reality,  balancing all things.  No one can gain power without someone losing it, for someone to be born, someone has to die, for someone to be healthy, someone has to be ill, etc etc etc.  Now, 2400 years later, elements in all three of the worlds have decided that the Balance is BS, and they want to cause it to fail and see what happens.  Will reality continue on without the Balance keeping it in check, or will everything unravel and cease to be?  The Balance must be maintained by an immortal priestess from each of the three worlds in a ceremony every year and a day, but if the ceremony is not performed there is a grace period of a year and a day before the Balance fails, and someone kidnaps the human priestess, while causing a civil war in the human world to distract from what's happening.  So we follow a slave girl who inherited a beast god's soul, power, and knowledge who uses her newfound power to build a crime empire for the purpose of destroying the Balance.  The kidnapped priestess who is desperate to return to her shrine to save the Balance.  The queen's bastard daughter whose birth caused a very costly and bloody rebellion 20 years ago, and a mercenary that she hired to get her the heck away from her crazy mother.  And an assassin from an order that upholds the Balance by assassinating those who become too powerful or wealthy so that those who suffer a lowering in status because of it can rise within the Balance.  And so beast god slave girl starts a civil war, kidnaps the priestess, and a world that was already butthurt from the rebellion 20 years ago decides that now is a good time to go insane, while the other characters hook up and attempt to get the priestess back to her shrine to save the world.  *takes deep breath*

So, yeah, that's the one I chose to start work on for NaNo this year.  It's the most complex story I've ever attempted to write with about a dozen different viewpoint characters, a lot of politics, and also incorporates a lot of philosophical and metaphysical ideas about what reality is, and what it means to be human.  It's probably the most ambitious story I've ever started, but I've been kicking around ideas that eventually evolved into it for about 15 years now, and I feel that I've gained enough writing experience in the last few years here that I can actually pull it off decently now.  Part of the reason I've put it off so long is that I didn't feel I was a good enough writer to properly tell the story, but I think I can handle it now.  *crosses fingers*

Anyway, I just barely managed to hit the 50k words for NaNo last night at about 11:55 PM so I made it, but just barely.  I still have about a month's worth of work to do on Memories of What Never Was before the final draft is finished, and it's December and I'm a mailman, so that month is not going to be this month.  But once I'm done with that, I think I'm pretty well set to continue with Carrying the Weight of the World's first draft.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Why Zelda: Breath of the Wild didn’t work for me.

There’s something of a plague of open world games out there on the market today.  Some of them are very good.  The Witcher 3, Horizon Zero Dawn, Final Fantasy XV, and Nier: Automata to name a few that I’ve actually played.  And then there’s the ones that aren’t.  Xenoblade Chronicles X and Breath of the Wild among them.  Both of those games were made by the same company, Monolith Soft.  And they both suffer from a lot of the same problems. 

What makes a good open world game as opposed to a bad one?  For me, it’s the way the story is handled.  Looking at the examples of the open world games that I enjoyed, mentioned above, the story is the central aspect of the game.  It just happens to take place in a large open world that you can explore and do all sorts of things in, but the story is always foremost.  You always know exactly where to go to continue the story, and you can plow straight through it without doing any exploration or side activities if you so desire.  The open world serves the story.  You have a large, lived in world for it to take place in.  You know where to go and what to do.  Exploration, crafting, hunting, leveling up, side-questing, etc is all secondary to the story.

When you look at games like Xenoblade Chronicles X, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or something like Dragon Age: Inquisition, the open world is the point of the game.  It’s all about the exploration, hunting, crafting, leveling up, side-questing etc.  The story is secondary to all of that.  And usually the story ain’t all that great either, because the focus of the developers was not to tell a story within an open world, but to make an open world period.  It gives the feeling of there being a huge world with nothing to do in it.  Nothing driving you forward to do anything. 

Looking closer at Breath of the Wild, there is a story, but it’s very weak and it feels like it was added in as an afterthought.  After the initial beginning area, you are basically told, hey, there’s story out there somewhere in this huge world.  Go find it.  You’re given small clues as to where you might find bits of the story in the form of pictures, but holy hell, have you tried locating them without an online guide?  It is nigh impossible.  It is as if the developers didn’t WANT you to find and play through the story.  Where Horizon Zero Dawn, for example, always has a marker on your map for where to go next in the story, and the entire game is centered around the character and her struggles to find her place in the world, you’re left completely to your own devices in Breath of the Wild with a character that has no personality or will of his own.

When you do, eventually, find the story of Breath of the Wild--IF YOU EVEN CAN!!!--It’s very weak.  It’s barely even a story at all.  It feels more like the back story you’d read on the first page of the instruction manual if those were still a thing.  The character you play doesn’t feel like he’s a part of it.  He doesn’t have much of a personality, and exists solely as a projection of the player.  Which, ironically, makes you feel as though you have LESS of a stake in the story.  The story is not very character driven, and even if it was, the characters are so flippin’ bland that they might as well just be cardboard cutouts.  So all you’re left with is a bunch of exploration and puzzle solving for the sake of exploration and puzzle solving.  And, while that obviously seems to be enough for a lot of the people who played the game, it’s not enough for me.  I want story.  I want deep and sympathetic characters.  I want drama.  I want action.  I want something--ANYTHING--to happen.  I don’t want to have to search with a freaking magnifying glass just to find the bare bones of an extremely lazy story that feels like an afterthought by the developers.  I want a story that takes place in an open world, not just an open world in itself.

Also, I don’t really care for the gameplay of Breath of the Wild on top of the story being kind of insultingly bad.  The combat is kind of meh.  The stamina system is pretty simple to overclock early on in the game, which removes, basically, all of the challenge in exploration.  And good god the weapons.  Whoever decided that every weapon you pick up will break after you whack something 4 times with it needs a good kick in the ass.  It’s absolutely ridiculous!  Also, the limited space you have to carry weapons in adds more artificial difficulty to the game.  Not only does every weapon shatter after using it only a few times, you also can’t carry enough weapons to make up for it.  I also disliked the lack of music in the game.  For me, the music is part of the experience.  When there’s no music at all outside of towns or combat, it feels like a huge part of the game is missing to me.  Also, and this is something that has been annoying the crap out of me for decades now.  Where is the Legend of Zelda theme music?  The last game that it really featured in was Link’s Awakening (Yes, I know a remake just came out.  Shut it!)  that music is so iconic for the series, and it hasn’t been used in 25 freaking years.  What the actual hell, Nintendo?

So, I guess the point is that an open world within a game just isn’t enough.  It needs more.  It needs a story to guide you through it.  Without that, the open world just feels like an empty waste of time.  And before anyone asks me what I thought about Skyrim, I played about 2 hours of it and gave up because I absolutely hated the controls.  Open world games are really only worth playing so long as there is something meaningful to work toward in them.  And for me, that meaningful thing is story.  When the developers are so focused on open world that they forget to tell a story, or do a poor job of telling it, the whole game is just a big, empty wasteland of nothing interesting for me.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Soooooooooo, I'm finally finished with Spires of Infinity.  It's done.  It's finished.  It's ready for me to start trying to pimp it out to publishers and agents.  If you're so inclined, you can find it at the bottom of this page.  It's the one that says "Spires of Infinity Rewrite - Full Final Draft", as opposed to the one that says "SpiresOfInfinity FinalDraft" in case anyone gives a crap and wants to make comparisons.

I feel that the new version of this book is far, FAR superior to the original.  This final draft, in particular, added 15k words in various places, with several large additions, a few changes to dialog, and about 4000 smaller changes that no one but me will ever really notice.  I am just so incredibly glad to be done with this.  This last draft felt like even more work than writing the original draft, and it was pretty soul-crushing.  It just took so much time to get anything done with it, that it felt like I wasn't making any progress at all for months.  But it's finally, FINALLY done.  I am extremely happy with the finished product here.  It is a much, much better story, with far better characters than thee original version.  Reading the original, it feels kind of soulless, but this one feels so much more alive, and meaningful to me.  Hopefully I can get a publisher to agree on that.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Getting there, but slow going.

Just.  About.  Done.  With.  Spires.  Of.  Infinity.

I have to say that this final draft has been kind of excruciating.  I'm just about there, though.  Maybe another week or two and it will be completed.  It really feels like beating my head against the wall here, because I've read this book through about 10 or so times already and that's not even counting the 8-10 times I read through the original version of Spires before this rewrite.  This is why I took a bit of a break, because after so many times reading through it, you kind of stop seeing the actual text and anything that may be wrong with it.  And most of the changes I'm making this draft, though necessary to raise the overall quality of the writing, are so small no one but me is ever even going to notice them.  I got about halfway through the final draft and then thought, wait a minute, there's one more thing I need to do to polish up my prose a bit, and had to go all the way back to the beginning.  I've made a few thousand small changes, and dozens of other medium sized changes.  There's been a handful of larger scale shanges too.  Most of the changes I'm making are just to fix paragraph structuring issues.  Mostly to vary my sentence structure from sentence to sentence so I rarely, if ever have two sentences with the same structure one after another.  All of the other changes have been to add more character and background to Sam and Gabriel, and to build up their friendship a bit more.  I've added about 13k words, which is kind of a lot more than I really wanted to.  I was trying to keep the word count around 100k, but it's now balloned up to almost 115k now.  These changes are massively for the better, though, and I'm happy with them.  In my opinion the characters are a lot more well rounded now, and their friendship feels a lot more genuine.  But, of course, I may be just a tad bit biased on that.

So yes, I am still working.  I know it probably seems like I've just been playing video games all year from what I've posted this year, but I really do want to get this book finished, and then get Memories of What Never Was finished as well.  I think Memories only needs one last draft with the same treatment that I'm giving Spires this go around.  I'm not really looking forward to it, though, because Memories is half again as long as Spires, and this last draft of Spires has taken me months.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Final Fantasy XII

So, back in the day, 13 years ago to be exact, Final Fantasy XII came out.  At that time I had been an almost life long fan of the Final Fantasy series.  The original Final Fantasy was the big thing I'd gotten for Christmas the year after I got an NES.  I didn't get a SNES for some time after they were released, but when I did, the first game I bought was Final Fantasy II(IV) and then one of my friends got Final Fantasy III(VI) for his birthday, and we all gathered around to watch at a sleepover as he played through a large portion of it.  It may sound pretty silly these days, but at the time, we were pretty blown away by the graphics, and the music, and the story, and the characters.  We didn't care that it was eight of us watching one guy playing a game that, by today's standards, is pretty archaic.  It was an experience.  I bought that one a soon as I could afford it too.  I downloaded fan translated roms of the Final Fantasy games that didn't make it to the USA, and then bought those when they were released for various platforms here at last.  When Final Fantasy moved into the next generation of consoles, I, like the idiot I was, bought an N64 in anticipation, only to have Final Fantasy VII be announced for Playstation.  And I had quit my after school job by that time, due to hating every single second I was at work, so I had no way to buy the new system.  Through the help of a friend, I was able to get my hands on one, and snapped up Final Fantasy VII.  I was hyped up like crazy for VIII and IX, and the CG Spirits Within movie, buying both the games opening day, and as I was working as a projectionist at the time, watching the movie after closing time at the theater a couple days before release.  The movie was kid of terrible, but I loved the games.  Then came the Playstation 2, and all of the craziness it took to actually get my hands on a console there.  The launch for that system was flippin harsh.  And Final Fantasy X, which I hadn't been quite so hyped for as the three previous games, but was still rather excited to play.  It was okay, not great, not terrible.  I think it might have been better had they, at the very least, allowed me to play the game with the Japanese voice cast, because HOLY FREAKING CRAP the English cast is absolutely AWFUL.

And that brings me to Final Fantasy XII.  At the time that this game was announced, I had allowed Final Fantasy XI, the first MMORPG of the series, to suck out my soul.  I played that game for so many hours a week that I look back on it now and cringe.  I let it take over my life for so long that I don't know how I even managed to finish college.  At that time, Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the Final Fantasy series, and the guy who wrote all of the stories for the games, and came up with all of the characters and stuff, had left the company in disgrace after the massive flop of the Final Fantasy movie, and left Squaresoft in such financial disorder that they had to be bought out by long time rival Enix, making Square-Enix.  The Final Fantasy series was still their flagship series, and so they announced another game.  Right from the beginning, in the first trailers and info from the game to be released, something felt off to me.  It wasn't the same.  Something wasn't right.  Something was missing.  Then it was announced that series music composer Nobuo Uematsu would also not be returning.  I own the Final Fantasy soundtracks.  I still listen to them today.  I LOVED his music for those games, and this announcement kind of hit me a little hard.  The two men most responsible for my enjoyment of the Final Fantasy series were not taking any part in this game.

But, I was a Final Fantasy fan, and I was still going to buy and play it no matter what.  So when the game came out, I went and bought it, popped it into my PS2 and absolutely hated it.  The characters were annoying, the voice acting was atrocious, the battle system was clunky and very buggy, and the skill system was a nightmare of idiotic ideas that somehow had not been rejected, and actually made it into the final product.  The story was bland and painfully cliche, none of the characters seemed to have any real motivation to be doing anything, and I just did not enjoy the gameplay at all.  So I never finished it.  I gave up after a few hours.  I remember the exact moment when I said to myself, nope, this one is not for me.  It was the revelation that the king had been killed by someone's evil twin.  Yes.  An evil twin.  You can't get more cliche than that.  Until now, this game has remained the one and only main line Final Fantasy game that I didn't finish, and after finally going back and finishing Final Fantasy XV a few weeks ago, I saw a banner ad online for a Nintendo Switch re-release of Final Fantasy XII.  I figured, it's been 13 years, and they've probably made some improvements to the game, maybe it's not as bad as I remember it being.  And I've recently gone back to games that I'd abandoned, Xenoblade Chronicles X and Final Fantasy XV and finished them, coming away from both feeling that I was glad I gave them a second chance, so maybe I'd feel the same way about Final Fantasy XII.


I did not.

I did finish the game.

But I thought it was awful.

So, let me start with the positives, because there are some good things in this mess of a game.  For the Switch version of this game, which is a port of the PS4 version, I'm told, there have been some improvements over the original game.  The music was completely redone of this version of the game, reorchestrated and rerecorded in HD, and the game gives you the option of playing with the old soundtrack, or the new.  The graphics are pretty great for a PS2 game, and they transferred to HD pretty well, which is not always the case.  It's a beautiful game to look at, and it has some pretty seamless transitions between gameplay and CG cutscenes.  This version of the game saw the introduction of an actual job system, rather than the hot mess the License Board was in the original version, giving less customization options for your characters, but also removing the extreme headache of trying to figure out a path through that damned license board that makes sense for each of them.  This was one of the main reasons I found the game so frustrating in the original version.  The battle system has been tweaked a bit so it runs more smoothly.  The Gambits are a lot easier to set up in a way that they'll actually function as intended now, which was another thing that I found to be unbearable in the original game.  They also added a speed multiplier, where you can speed the game up by 2x or 4x.  The game slows back down to normal speed for cutscenes, but this allows you to run through the countryside at increased speed, level up quickly, and move from place to place without spending hours walking there at normal speed.

Now for the bad.  First of all, the music.  It's boring, bland, and horribly generic.  For the life of me, I can't remember a single track off the entire soundtrack, except the ones that came from previous Final Fantasy games.  For me, the music is always part of the experience, and when the music is so boring and forgettable, it doesn't make for a very good experience.  The story is extraordinarily cliche.  It's also very poorly written and told.  Nothing in this game seems like it's happening for any real reason.  It's just happening because the script says it has to.  There's no real driving force behind anything that happens.  And a big part of that is the characters.  4 of the 6 playable characters have no reason to be there.  Including Vaan, the supposed protagonist of the game.  Vaan, I feel, has the least reason of all of the characters to actually be there.  He has absolutely no motivation whatsoever as a character.  He's just there because reasons, and because he's, apparently, the main character.  He has no stakes in anything, and is frequently asked what his motivations are, to which he replies, with I'unno.  I mean, how are we supposed to care about a character who has no reason to be there, and doesn't even know why he's there, himself?  Penelo fades into the background, because she's only there because Vaan is, but as flimsy as that is, at least she's shown to have SOME motivation as a character.  Balthier also has absolutely no reason to be there.  He's got this very thin, oh, I'm in it for the money, but he's never actually seen getting paid, and he's never really even promised any sort of reward either.  He does have reasons, which is more than I can say for Vaan, but they are very thin, and they take a very large leap of logic to connect to him wanting to accompany the group for any amount of time.  He is the character I hate with a fiery passion.  I absolutely despise him.  He says nothing in this game that is not the most horribly cliche line he could possibly say in any given situation.  Even Fran, his longtime friend and partner, calls him out on his BS at the end of the game, which made me laugh.  The guy is just wretched, and every moment he is onscreen and speaking is torture.  Fran, like Penelo, is only there because Balthier is, but she maintains a presence in the story by being the mystic of the group and knowing about all of the mystic things so she can explain them.  She also constantly tells Vaan how stupid he is, which made her my favorite character just for that alone.  The onyl real characters that have a reason to be there are Ashe and Basch, which are trying to get Ashe her throne back and liberate her kingdom.  They're the only characters in the main cast with motivation to do anything, and it's really just not enough.  The problem is that neither of them are, in any way, likable or sympathetic.  Even though they're the only characters in the game that have a reason to be there, they're just terrible characters that I found it very hard to like or care about.

As for playing the game, yes, they did fix the gambit system and the battle system so that they run more smoothly, but that also makes gameplay very boring.  Once you tweak your gambits just right, the game, literally, plays itself.  All you do is choose the direction your characters run in, and they will automatically kill anything in their paths.  Oh, you can control your characters all individually if you want, but why would you?  Combine this with the speed multipliers and you can just zip through areas, kill everything in your path without raising a finger to do so, and arrive at your destination all leveled up to fight whatever big bad may be waiting for you.  It makes the game feel very hollow and unsatisfying, but at least you can get through it without wasting too much time or effort doing it.  Combine this hollow, unsatisfying feeling with the horribly cliche and terribly written story, and the characters that just don't have any reason to be there, and, well, you have an absolute mess of a game that is just not very fun to play.

I have to make one more point here about the English voice acting.  It's terrible.  The actors are just not very good, the direction is pretty terrible, and there are actors who I KNOW are white doing very, very bad Middle Eastern accents, which feels a little racist in this day and age.  But the worst, most annoying thing about the English voice acting is this.  There are probably 3 dozen separate actors in this game that all, EVERY ONE OF THEM, mispronouce the word Marquis.  I mean, of all the people who spoke the word incorrectly, and all of the recording team and director, not one of them stopped and said, hey, wait a minute, I don't think you say it like that?  REALLY?  It was so freaking grating.  I was literally yelling at the screen, "It's pronounced Mar-kee, you idiots!!!" dozens of times throughout the game.

So, my final thoughts on this game:  Avoid it.  It's not good.  It's a waste of time and money for anyone that doesn't care about series completion.  The story and characters are terrible, and the gameplay is boring and far too automated.  This game experimented with a lot of things, but it didn't really do any of them well.  The music is bland, boring, and forgettable.  The series creator and writer, and the series composer, both left the company and had no or very little part in this game, and it shows.  It has the feel of a game that was thrown together as fast as it could be thrown together, just to get another game out during he PS2 lifecycle and milk a bit more money out of fanboys like me.  I felt that this game was a complete drudgery to play, and found little to no enjoyment in it.  As someone who loved all 10 main line Final Fantasy games before it, I felt very disappointed and somewhat betrayed by this game, and I can't recommend it to anyone for any reason.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Final Fantasy XV

So, a while back I saw Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition in the $10 bin at Wal-Mart, and figured, hey, why not.  This is the version that includes all of the expansion pass goodies, plus a bunch of new additions unique to that version of the game, including expanded final dungeons and boss fights etc.  I made a post about how I felt I'd gotten my money's worth out of the game.  It was okay, not great.  Very light on story, heavy focus on side quests and open world exploration.  Plus it had all of the story DLC (that had been released at the time) included.  I played it for a bit, got my $10 bucks worth, and lost interest, moving on to other things without finishing it.

I don't know what made me go back to the game with the intent to finish it, but I did.  The first half of hte game is a bit of a mindlessly enjoyable open world game.  But the second half is much more involved, story-wise, and removes the open world aspect almost completely.  I enjoyed the second half of the game a heck of a lot more than I did the first half, and finished the game from where I'd left off at in just a couple of days.

So here are some final thoughts on the game before I get to my rant on the DLC.  The characters are a bit flat.  So much so that Square-Enix actuall made a short anime series just to give the characters development and back story that was completely absent from the game.  You know, the things that motivate characters to do the things that they do?  Yeah, you have to watch an anime series on youtube to get those.  They're not in the game.  And that, right there, is the biggest problem with this game.  So many vital story and character elements are just not there.  Would it have killed them to put these anime scenes into the game as flashbacks at camps or something?  And then there's the Kingsglaive movie, which, again is vital to understanding the plot and how everything comes together, but was not included in the game, because SE wanted to rake in some more cash on a theatrical release, which they did, it was a pretty high grossing movie in Japan, if nowhere else in the world.  I really enjoyed it.  It's a pretty good movie.  And there are SO MANY Breaking Bad jokes to be made throughout its runtime.  But, again, it was story elements cut from the game, that you're kind of lost not knowing.  This is the problem. I can forgive flat, or ridiculous characters.  I can forgive outrageous plot threads, and plot holes you can drive a medium sized moon through.  These are staples of the Final Fantasy series.  Don't believe me, go replay Final Fantasy VII.  I'll wait.  You back?  Yeah, now you see what I mean, right?  I can forgive those, because they're part of the charm of the series.  What I can't forgive is vital story and character information being left out of the game and only available from outside sources.  This is not how good storytelling works, folks.  Imagine playing through the fall of Insomnia as Regis, or Nyx, or hell, even Lunafreya, instead of having to watch a movie to find out what happened off screen while the Bro-Force was asleep in Galden Quay.  This was also a huge problem in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, except there was no anime series or movie you could go watch, you had to read all of the lore and character information in datalogs that you actually have to hunt down through a maze of menus to even find.  It's a step up on XIII, but still not great.

Anyway, the story does get good about halfway through, and the end of the game is decent, if feeling a little rushed.  Again, I only paid $10 for it, so I got my money's worth.

I also played through the story DLC.  I don't mind supplemental story being added to a game after the completion of its story.  Sometimes I'll even actually pay for it, but usually not, because I've discovered something wondrous, ladies and gentlemen.  If you wait long enough, eventually there will be a complete or game of the year or whatever version of the game that includes it all, and usually for a reduced price.  But then there's games like Final Fantasy XV, where vital sections of the story are removed from the game to be sold later.  This, I do not, and cannot support.  Let's take a look at Final Fantasy XV's season pass compared to another game I bought the season pass for, Xenoblade Chronicles 2.  The season pass for FFXV was $15, with with you got a few weapons, an online multiplayer mode, and 3 story DLCs ranging from 1 hr to 2hrs in length each.  The season pass for XBC2 was $30 and you got all kinds of free goodies, a challenge battle mode, the ability to alter character appearances in the main game, a new game + that allows you to set your level for the difficulty you want in a replay, more rare blades to summon, and an expansion to the game that took me almost 30 hours to complete.  the story DLCs for FFXV were blatantly cut out of the main storyline of the game and sold separately as additional content.  the story in XBC2 is complete in itself, and the story DLC there is like a completely new and separate game that takes place in the same world to delve deeper into the back story.  Even at twice the price, I felt the XBC2 season pass waswell worth the money.  If I hadn't had the expansion pass included in the Royal Edition of FFXV I wouldn't have bothered.

So, there are 4 story DLCs for FFXV

Episode Gladiolus
Episode Prompto
Episode Ignis
Eisode Ardyn

Episode Ardyn is not included in the royal edition or the season pass.  There are also the canceled Episode Lunafreya and Episode Aranea, which are being rumored to be getting made after all, but probably not.

Episode Gladiolus is the most blatantly cut out of the game, dude randomly says hey guys, I'm out for a bit, catch ya later, then comes back and never says where he went or what he did.  This is probably the least enjoyable of the 4 in my opinion, because it just wasn't very interesting, and I found the combat difficult and clunky.  It was just a series of boss battles without much in the way of story.

Episode Prompto was much better, and it shows some very vital story elements for Prompto that really needed to be in the main game.  His motivations as a character are all laid out, and he's given a lot more depth than he otherwise has.  I had trouble playing through this one, becuase it's a combo of stealth sections and shooter sections, and I absoltely despise stealth games with the fiery intensity of a million George Foreman grills, and I don't really care for shooters either.  Story is great, and the character development is necessary, and really needed to be added into the main game.

Episode Ignis is by far the best of the original 3 season pass DLCs, and it is aboslutely vital to the the story of the main game.  If you do not play this, there are large elements of plot and character motivations that make absolutely no sense whatsoever without.  Ravus' random side change?  Yeah, that's explained.  Ignis' complete personality shift in the second half of the game.  That's explained too.  I WOULD say to play this immediately after fighting Leviathan, except for one HUGE problem.  IT SPOILS THE FREAKING END OF THE GAME!!!!  They remove a vital section of the story, on that elements of the ending of the game make no sense without, and put it behind a paywall to get, and you can't even play it where it needs to be played because it spoils the end of the game!  The story was good, the character moments were great, and Ignis' combat is really fun to play.

Episode Ignis was the best of the 3 season pass DLCs, but Episode Ardyn is far and away the absolute best of the four.  It gives so much back story and motivation to the game's main villain that was just completely missing from the main game.  where the other three DLCs were blatantly removed from the game, this one looks like it was made because the creators felt they needed to explain more about Ardyn's character.  This is more in line with the type of DLC I'm more supportive of.  Supplemental material that either adds more past the ending of the story, or clarifies parts of the story that were maybe a bit vague.  The combat is really fun, and Ardyn is just so gleefully evil that he is a hell of a lot of fun to play as.  You have an entire city to run around and just destroy and murder to your heart's content, all while he makes wisecracks and sarcastic comments.  It's probably the most fun I've had with Final Fantasy XV, period.  BUT at $9.99 for a 2 hour story DLC, it is ridiculously overpriced.  But, again, I only paid $10 for the main game and other DLCs, so I figure $20 altogether I still got my money's worth.  I loved this one, I only wish it had been a bit longer.  My advice would be to wait another 6 months or so until they release the super mega royal edition, which includes Episode Ardyn, or periodically check out the PSN/Xbox/Steam/Whatever store for a sale on a bundle of the royal edition and episode Ardyn.

So, in the end, I enjoyed the game.  I was suffering from a sever case of lowered expectations after all of the marketing and initial reviews of the vanilla game, but Final Fantasy XV today seems to have had a lot of the problems fixed, a lot of the holes filled in, and if the DLC is blatantly removed from teh main story, you can get it included in the royal edition.  The Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV anime, and the Prelude to Episode Ardyn anime are both free to watch on the official Final Fantasy XV youtube account, and the Kingsglaive movie can be rented and streamed from Amazon for $0.99, it's definitely worth a buck to watch.  Episode Ardyn was probably my favorite part of the entire game, but, again, it is RIDICULOUSLY overpriced.  If you can find the royal edition of the game for cheap like I did, I definitely recomend it.  While I don't feel the game was really worth full price, I do feel I got my money's worth and more for the price I paid.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

What I've been doing lately.

Okay, so, I got to a point in my first draft of Shadows of What Might have Been, sequel to Memories of What Never Was, and said to myself, yikes dude, you need to put this on the shelf and do a bit more brainstorming before you finish.  So I set that on the shelf, and am working out a few scenes that I need to add to the portion I've already written to make the ending I have planned actually make sense.

So what have I been working on in the mean time?  My final draft of Spires of Infinity.  Coming back to it after a few months off has given me some fresh eyes for finding problems that need to be fixed, things that need to be changed, and things that need to be added/removed.  I'm nearly halfway through, and have made some small, yet pretty significant changes.  Most of them having to do with Gabriel and Sam's characters.  I've added one scene of significant length, reshuffled a few into what I felt like was a better order, and made some minor tweaks here and there.  Mostly I feel that the changes help the story flow along better, and give a bit of a deeper connection to the characters.  So, I just have half of this book to go on editing, and then maybe a quick read through to make sure everything works and then I can start the really hard part, trying to sell it.

I'll admit that I haven't been doing a whole lot of work writing this year.  I'm still feeling pretty burnt out from Christmas at work.  In my 16 years of working at the post office I have NEVER seen a Christmas that bad.  I was working 7 days a week 12-15 hours a day because my complete moron of a boss doesn't realize the need for hiring to replace substitute carriers that quit, and we were horiffically understaffed and insanely overburdened.  I mean, really, Christmas comes at the exact same time every year.  You CAN prepare for it before hand if you're not a complete idiot.  It was a very long, very hard, very draining six weeks.  It just drained out all of my will to do anything productive.  I took a break back in January, but it wasn't long enough, and I already have the rest of my vacation time allocated this year so I can't take another break now and try to recover.  On top of that, I've been working on losing weight, and I'm kind of burning out on that too.  It is HARD work.  I've lost 50 lbs so far, and my goal is to lose 20 more, but it requires a pretty strict diet, and 90-120 mins of exercise every day.  It kind of wears you down.  With how much work and effort it has taken to lose the weight I am SO never letting myself get that fat ever again.  This has been a nightmare.  And it also cuts into my writing time, because it's very hard to maintain a pace on an exercise bike while also reading/editing/typing on a laptop, and completely impossible while out jogging.  Also, I've been working on paying off my car as quickly as possible to clear up some room in my budget, and looking at buying a house, which bring their own piles of stress with them.

Anyway, so that's what I've been doing the last few months since Christmas ended.  It's been a rough few months for me, and I still feel burnt out, but I've been making myself work on Spires of Infinity for at least an hour or so every day.  I am going to finish this thing, dammit!  And once I do, I'm going to finish Memories of What Never Was.  That one only needs one more draft too, I think.  I'm just about finished with both of these projects, and having them so close to being done while not doing anything to finish them has been nagging at me.