#371: The Ghost

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I don’t necessarily believe in ghosts, but I do believe in some kind of supernatural mental space. I think every element of the supernatural can be traced back to a moment in time in which a person, at that time, felt that the horror was real, as if it really had a hold on them. Like, for example, vampires aren’t real, obviously, but vampires were inspired by prejudice and anti-semitism. The actual disease of the mind wasn’t the vampiric haunts, but rather the bigotry that enabled people to invent whole new classifications for humans in order to understand minorities.

The real reason I wanted to make this post is because I was thinking about running back to my corpse on World of Warcraft, a regular corpse run to try and restore my spirit to its body. It’s an obnoxious process (I’ve talked a lot about obnoxious behaviors on this blog recently, haven’t I?) and it’s always made worse by the fact that the spirit healer is so far from your body. Sometimes I just don’t want to run all the way across the ocean to restore life to my corpse. Sometimes I just want to get resurrection sickness and accept defeat from there on.

Being a ghost isn’t so bad when you’re a night elf, though, as you have the ability to turn into a wisp which increases your movement speed while dead. It’s preferable to being any other race while dead, and if you spend a lot of time dead, like me, it makes sense to roll that race.

Oh, who am I kidding? I just got a tattoo done for the Horde faction, and here I am advocating people make night elves. I’m a traitor to my own tattoo at this point.

But really, dying sucks in this game. I don’t know why I wanted to talk about this.

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#344: The Halo, Part 2

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This post is a continuation from my previous one, so if you haven’t read that one yet, you might want to so that this one makes sense to you.

Halo 3 forge mode changed my life, the same way playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare made me one with the cool kids at school I wanted to be friends with. It felt like I was on the same level as them, and my skill in this game mattered to them in some ways. If I did well in Call of Duty or Halo, that meant I was skilled and they would respect me in some way. Video games were then an avenue towards social acceptance. My parents likely didn’t realize this connection at the time, but when I was online playing multiplayer matches on my Xbox on the living room TV, it was because I saw it as a way for me to make unlikely friends. Even to this day, video games have brought together people and communities I didn’t realize were possible.

Halo is where all my high school friends played. It feels so nostalgic to me not necessarily because of the game’s quality, but because it represents something to me, an era of gaming, that’s passed and won’t be repeated again. We’ve all moved on and lead different lives than we did then, and I don’t have the contacts of everyone I used to have. Joe, for example, and Steve are nearly impossible to communicate with these days, and they were both a huge part of that time period of my life. It’s odd to think back on those days and the people I spoke with then, how drastically that has changed from here to now. I talk to different online friends, and times have changed with my habits and proclivities.

#343: The Halo, Part 1

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Well, I had to write about the Halo series for my 343rd blog post. It’s only fitting.

For those not in the know, 343 is from 343 guilty spark, a character in Halo. It also was then taken as the name for 343 Industries, the game developer studio that creates and manages the entire Halo series. I haven’t owned an Xbox since the 360, back when I used to play on Xbox Live years ago, but those times have passed. I didn’t really have much interest in buying an Xbox One or a PS4 this generation, not until Persona 5 and Monster Hunter: World, which appropriately took over my world. I had a gaming PC for awhile and that was the most important gaming system I owned. It wasn’t worth it to spend time saving up money for a modern gaming console otherwise. I had my priorities set, pretty much.

However, every time a new Halo comes out I definitely have to switch over and figure out what’s going on with it. The series has always captivated me. I played a ton of Halo 3 online, zombie mode, ranked and competitive, team slayer, whatever was out there. I consumed Halo and Halo consumed me, back in the day. I loved the sticky grenades (or plasma grenades, as I think they were called) and I used to make tons of sick plays involving them, usually throwing them cross map and landing on someone unexpectedly. And then there’s the Forge! Nothing compares to that game’s creator mode. You could literally make anything happen there, and the game modes were unreal. I played a little bit of Halo: Reach online but it never stuck with me as much.

There’s also the campaign, which was rad and had four difficulty options, along with some “skulls” that added hidden effects and easter eggs to the campaign. You unlocked achievements for completing them all.

#313: The Newest Group

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Starting a new Dungeons & Dragons group is always a daunting task. There’s the issue of finding an appropriately knowledgeable and qualified DM, and of course finding players that are willing to play according to the group’s expected play style. By that I mean, not letting players act like jerks or chaotic evil dirtbags. That can definitely happen from time to time, if you let players play exactly how they want to. It’s important to set standards and limitations to what players can and can’t do, as a Dungeon Master, to ensure the game progresses smoothly and without complication. I’ve had some groups end because players got frustrated with each other and weren’t able to reconcile their differences. It can be frustrating to watch unfold, as people argue with each other over what’s the appropriate way to handle a situation.

But that’s not what D&D is all about. It’s about making memories and telling stories with your friends, it’s about making new friends in the process, it’s about developing your own, originally-created character in a social role-playing world of your imagination. It’s about all of those things and a lot more that can’t fully be described in a short blog post. I owe so much of my development to this game, and to think it will only continue further with a group at work is awesome news. I’m so stoked to hear what the kids decide to do, and where they take the story we’ve been working on together.

What I’m looking forward to most about joining a group is being able to sit back and relax as a player, while also meeting new friends in the area. Since starting my job in Norwalk, I’ve still been hanging out mostly with people I know from the New Haven area. It’s not the same.

#306: The Banjo

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This blog post won’t be about actual musical banjos, though I did have to look up whether the plural of banjo was banjos or banjoes in order to write this sentence.

My very first video game system was the Nintendo 64, which my uncle got for me on my fifth birthday (I think). I remember being incredibly engrossed in Super Mario 64. I still hold a certain nostalgia for 3d Mario platformers because of that era. And there were so many games like it that came after! Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo & Kazooie are the two that spring to my mind quickly, and they’re both modeled after the genre Super Mario 64 practically invented. Banjo in particular feels nostalgic to me because I used to love that game, even though I never beat it. The music, with its classic country twang, feels right at home in this type of game. It makes sense and it fits Banjo’s aesthetic. The people behind Rare Studios really took Super Mario 64’s mold and created their own colorful, energetic game out of it. I’m not saying that Banjo-Kazooie is a fantastic game, but it’s recognizable to me the same way Mario and his games are. The game is full of magic.

So, when news dropped a couple months ago that Banjo & Kazooie were coming to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, I was totally excited. Banjo was my biggest pick for Smash for a long time, and I knew it was unlikely because Rare Studios was traded over to Microsoft years ago. Microsoft is of course a rival gaming company to Nintendo, but to see them cooperate to allow this to happen shows that these video game companies are willing to put aside their (financial) differences to make great moments like this happen. I’m grateful for that, and I wish others would take their example.

#297: The Vanilla

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The classic experience. When people think about World of Warcraft, they probably think about the original game, the game as it was when it first came out and people flooded the streets of Orgrimmar and Stormwind, recognizable faces polluted trade chat, and Horde and Alliance alike waged war against Ragnaros, Kel’Thuzad, Nefarian, and C’Thun. This age, from 2004 to 2006, is referred to as “Vanilla WoW,” and the most basic (but not in a complexity sense) and fundamental aspects of the game trace their roots to this time period.

I never had the chance to play during this era, so my experience here is restricted. However, recently, Blizzard has released what’s called “Classic WoW,” which is included in the regular, retail WoW subscription price. “Classic WoW” is a separate set of servers that are tailor-made to restore the game as it once was. It preserves this two-year span of history forever in the state that it was at the time. For fans of the simpler days, before sharding took over and when servers had their own communities, this is ideal news. Blizzard’s decision to finally endorse and give in to classic servers was huge, considering their prior resistance to the idea. While I still dip into the retail game from time to time, I don’t currently have a subscription. If I did, I would consider jumping into Classic WoW to get a sense of how things were before probably going back to how things currently are. While I’m not saying the current iteration of the game is perfect, there are certain mechanics and systems to the retail version of WoW that I’m not sure I’d be able to do without, and I just learned flying again too!

Regardless, I respect Blizzard’s decision and the huge wave of support that Classic WoW has received is great to see. I’m a fan.

#296: The Crimson Flower

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Playing through Fire Emblem: Three Houses was an emotional experience. The ending almost made me cry, and reading all the different paired experiences for each character combination gave me just the kind of cathartic feeling I was looking for at the end of the game. Certain characters traveled the world and adventured together, some became romantically involved in unlikely combinations, and other characters went solo for a bit, accomplishing their dreams in their own ways. It was inspiring and made me feel things for my team that I had worked so hard to protect throughout each and every mission. I made sure to keep all my characters fairly overleveled through the repeatable battle missions.

My friend finished the same campaign, but the majority of his cast died in the process in that fateful final battle against the archbishop in her dragon form. The only surviving members of the Black Eagle house were Linhardt, Ferdinand, Edelgard, and the professor. I feel bad for him, but at least it was the final battle and at least he made it to the end after all. I’d feel bummed if I made it that far and couldn’t beat the game after all my effort and time spent building up my team.

The music is bombastic, epic, and over-the-top in all the right ways. It draws you in and gets you invested in the story of each mission, fitting appropriately next to the atmosphere they wanted to create.

The story was engrossing, nuanced, and memorable. It’s one I’ll remember for awhile. I’m also pretty glad I happened to side with Edelgard in this conflict, considering her philosophy was pretty agreeable (besides the obviously questionable parts of it, like waging war against your former classmates to reshape society). But overall, I liked the shades of grey that the story presented and I feel that the designers did a solid job of capturing that.

#238: The Grind

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The Grind. When it comes to grinding out experience, reputation, currency, gold, whatever I need in order to push forward in World of Warcraft, I’m used to it. Back when Burning Crusade was current content, I remember the first grind I participated in was the Shattered Sun Offensive reputation grind. You had to hit exalted in order to get all the good stuff, so obviously I wanted to get there pretty badly. As a kid in middle school, I didn’t realize the predatory practices of games at the time, and I didn’t quite understand how the rep grind was designed to make me want to play the game more and more, incentivizing total commitment to the game every day in order to maximize the reputation I earned each day. That’s what life on current World of Warcraft is like, too, now that they’ve added two new reputations and two new zones to explore: Nazjatar and the Ankoan, and Mechagon and the Rustbolt Resistance. (Rustbolt almost sounds like Rustbelt, which is kind of funny.)

(Coffee beans are all I could find when searching “grind,” even though it’s unrelated to the topic. I like having unrelated pictures attached to these blog posts, though.)

In other words, the grind is a long, arduous process of completing monotonous tasks over and over again in order to achieve a result that’s gated in some way by an arbitrary restriction, such as reputation or gold or something like that. In this case, in order to get flying on all my characters in the new areas, I need to hit revered with both of the new factions and then explore each new island, too. It’s a process, but I’m used to it by this point. I’ve done it on almost all of my characters, so there’s nothing holding me back.

#220: The Timewalk

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Timewalking is a feature in World of Warcraft that becomes available every few weeks or so, and it’s become a tradition for us to take time out of our busy schedules to complete the 5 required weekly timewalking dungeons, regardless of what expansion they come from.

Let me explain what timewalking is first. So in World of Warcraft, there have been seven expansions up to this point. The game has been out since 2004, and it’s still running strong despite everything else going wrong with the game since then. Each expansion has a set of dungeons (5-player group content) exclusive to that expansion. In Mists of Pandaria, the fourth expansion to the game, you could explore the Temple of the Jade Serpent with a group of randomized players, but in the most recent expansion, you can still complete the Temple dungeon, but not with random players in an instance queue. That is, until timewalking appears, and then you are able to experience the magic all over again. Your characters are leveled down to the current level of the expansion, and then you’re forced to take on everything that comes your way with an item level appropriate to the expansion, too. Everything is normalized to provide an authentic experience of what it would be like if that content was current. For example, all the enemies and bosses are scaled up while you are scaled down to match their power levels. Mechanics are important again, and you can’t just zerg rush through all the bosses without paying attention to some of the mechanics of the game. You have to actually pay attention and work as a team, rather than rushing and rushing along through every health bar you face.

That’s it for timewalking, for now at least. I’m sure I’ll talk about it again at some point, considering how prevalent it is in WoW.

#218: The Board Game

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It’s time we talk about board games and how they’ve changed the way I think about gaming in general.

Board games are a blast, and I own plenty of them. My favorites that I own are probably Betrayal at House on the Hill & Kings of New York, two classics that always seem to pop up when my friends and I decide to hang out and play games together. There’s also Settlers of Catan, Clue, Taboo, Munchkin, Magic (if you count magic as a board games, it depends on your definition I guess), and more that I’m forgetting off the top of my head and I’m sure Alex will remind me of them after she reads this.

The reason why I like playing board games is because they allow a certain degree of role-playing that isn’t afforded by other games. In Betrayal, for example, people are given the chance to role-play as a person trekking through a mysterious, haunted mansion. The place is procedurally generated, thanks to the freedom that playing a board game offers, and there are tiles that you pull from to create the mansion. When you run into an Omen tile, you have to draw an Omen card, such as a Sword, Zombie, Knight, etc., and they determine what the Haunt will be. The Haunt is the moment that changes the game and flips everything on its head. Depending on what Omen is drawn, who draws it, and what room they draw it in, the game chooses a “Betrayer” who then has to fight against the rest of the party. It’s one of my favorite games because of the randomness presented by it, as well as the sheer interactions that come from playing a game that randomly pits certain people against each other. How fun is that?

I also like playing Kings of New York, but I’ve run out of words to talk about that one. Maybe next time!