rambling

Winter Relaxation: Sweaters, Jackets, and Coffee

I haven’t sworn with such vehement disdain at my television in a long time, but one of the event matches in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is pissing me off.

Betcha didn’t expect a post about relaxation to begin that way, did ya? I just wanted to highlight one of my habits: when a game becomes too frustrating, I take a little break from it and return later to see if my luck has changed. This works sometimes, I swear.

Being a man of many hobbies makes this sort of distracted relaxation simple, for I always have some other entertainment to which I may turn my attention; a stack of books, a list of games, and a queue of tv shows makes flitting from one medium to the next as easy and calm as a leaf floating on a breeze.

Seeing as how my winter break from college officially began last night after I took my final final exam of the fall semester, I’m going to have a lot of time to enjoy myself and live as I want, which means I’m gonna take things nice and slow and progress at a natural, languid pace. I was made for long winters and desert nights, always ready to bundle up and get comfy with a book or a game. I’m going to do a lot of that over the next month before the spring semester begins. A quick revelation: I just realized that, according to most college types, winter is only about a month long. Ha! A lot of cities beg to differ, but I digress.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, Wario Land II is the next handheld game on my list, and I’m still going strong in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I’m considering going along with the changing seasons again and switching my house from a haunted mansion to a festive collection of snowy, icy, and holiday furniture. Even if I don’t redecorate, I’m probably gonna get off my lazy ass and post some pictures of my town. It’s about time you fine reading folks saw the fruits of my slow labor.

Aside from the usual Animal Crossing grind, I’m still plinking away at the trophy collection in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and things are coming along nicely. I’ve got nearly 600 of the 716 or so trophies in the game and I feel pretty good. I’ve got to enjoy that as much as I can today because as of tonight I’ll be watching my girlfriend’s sister’s house with my girlfriend for a week and I won’t be bringing my Wii U along – I leave it at home and enjoy my handheld games when I go places. Yay normalcy?!

This whole “watch a family member’s house” thing is becoming a winter tradition for me, and it works well because I get to laze about without fretting over school or work or what-have-you. I can just relax and enjoy my games, my books, and my own calm way of living.

So I’ll probably be doing a lot of 3DS gaming over the next week. I expect to finish Wario Land II in that time, while I continue crossing animals in New Leaf, and maybe even throwing some Etrian Odyssey IV in there. Or I could start playing Devil Survivor Overclocked. I downloaded it a while back after I’d gotten around to playing Shin Megami Tensei IV and digging it. Damn, my list of games to play gets longer by the day – I gotta take care of that. Winter, ahoy!

P.S. Atlus rules. Some games were announced a little while back that got me super excited for next year, and I haven’t posted anything about those yet. I’m thinking a big-ass post about Atlus and some of their awesome games may be in order for the very near future. Happy gaming, folks!

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rambling

Initial Discomfort in Gaming: Searching for That Sweet Spot

Have you ever been reluctant to play a video game for any reason? Sometimes you convince yourself a game may be too stressful, or not to your liking, or not worth your time. Yet the desire to give it a chance plinks away at your resistance’s health meter until BAM, you can’t hold back anymore: the controller is in your hand and your eyes are filling with sweet new pixels.

I know the feeling of such reluctance. I’ve been resistant to certain games. Here’s an example: a few years ago, right around this time of year, I downloaded Fallout. Okay, full disclosure: my awesome girlfriend bought me Fallout. It was on sale for five bucks and I was at a low point in my life; I think she sensed this and did what she could to keep me happy. Anyway, don’t get me wrong: Fallout is a well-crafted and highly praised game. Here’s my confession: I’d never played a hardcore crpg (computer role-playing game) before. I’d played Fallout 3 on my Xbox 360 (hell, it was pretty much my sole reason for getting my own Xbox 360. That and Oblivion – damn you, Bethesda!) but according to my internet research, Fallout 3 created a rift in the Fallout fan community, mostly due to it being not in the exact same vein as the original game (I’m paraphrasing here).

Anyway, to cut back on a lot of hemming and hawing, most gamers throwing their opinions into the interwebz agree that the first two Fallout games made by Black Isle Studios are among the best PC games out there, and despite my lack of experience with computer games, I really wanted to see what awesome origins gave rise to Fallout 3. That’s how I tend to progress in my gaming life: I play a game that is usually around the middle or the end of a series and I become interested enough to look into that series’ origins. This is what I did with Fallout.

And lemme tell ya, it was damn weird at first. I recall some of my first thoughts being “Whaddaya mean I can’t move with the arrow keys? How the hell do I shoot that critter? How do people play without a controller?” Oh my, I had a lot of gripes aimed at the game – the learning curve was steep for me and my resistance to trying a new thing was only making things worse.

Then, while my girlfriend and I house-sat at her sister’s place, a big ol’ snowstorm blanketed the neighborhood with pristine flakes of snow. The house we were watching/enjoying was nestled in a cookie-cutter neighborhood near the foot of some mountains, and while the snow wasn’t too crazy it was enough to trap my girlfriend’s car in the driveway. We spent an hour or two digging a path down to the street; once we were done, it was late and my girlfriend wanted to sleep.

I don’t go to bed at “normal” hours, though – I game. So I jumped back on the Fallout wagon to see if I’d stay in it willingly, and oh man, that’s when I found the sweet spot.

While my girlfriend slept peacefully, I became absorbed in a world that is far different from my own. Radioactive winds cut across blasted deserts to bring death and mutation in their wake. Bloodthirsty raiders bartered in bullets and bad words. Most folks struggled mightily just to find a decent snack, let alone a full meal.

I trudged through that apathetic desert and I loved it.

I took on every quest I could, I searched every container, I tried to pick every virtual lock and pickpocket every virtual person, I lived and died and reloaded my save file again and again in a sand-eaten wasteland of gray morality and blood-red arguments. I wanted to keep on exploring that wasteland, even when three A.M. grinned from darkened hallways and my hands ached from hours-long dances across my keyboard. I’d found the gaming sweet spot and let it consume me.

To those who know what it’s like to feel anxious or apprehensive about playing a particular style or genre of game: don’t let your lack of expertise prevent you from at least trying out a new thing. Sometimes, when the planets align and interstellar dust mixes with our atmosphere to tinge the sky a deep strange orange, or when radioactivity threatens to eat away the very fabric of human existence, you find that sweet spot. You don’t want to stop enjoying yourself.

Sometimes, a game is just too good not to play.

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Thank the Maker, Some Sweet Release

Have you ever sat down a few hours before a deadline and rushed through whatever project is due in a short amount of time? Yeah, that’s what final papers do to me. I’ve got about a week or so (okay, eight days to be exact) left before I can officially kiss this semester goodbye, and I’ve been freaking out because as of three days ago I had two long essays to write before tonight.

But then, tonight – oh, tonight. I got home after driving my car home from Pep Boys and proceeded to eat my dinner as fast as I could stomach so I could begin a mad dash to the end of a seven-page paper. Okay, seven pages really isn’t that many, but to me it’s a lot – I come from a community college, where the longest paper was about five pages long and most professors are more lax than ex-Ex-lax. That stuff don’t need to work no more!

Anywho, I started the slow process of getting the damn ball rolling, and I thought I’d barely beat the deadline – when I filled out my seventh page around nine o’clock. My paper is due at eleven o’clock. Holy mother of mercy, I managed to turn it in with two hours to spare!

Do you know what that means, good readers? Do you know what wonderful things that entails?

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This thing!

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And this thing!

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Even this thing!

Arnold Palmer is confused by his can prison, but I'm not.

Arnold Palmer is confused by his can prison, but I’m not.

To top all my sweet gaming freedom off, I also have a good drank. Ya gotta have good dranks when you sit down for a relaxing gaming session.

My 3DS, my Wii U, my beautifully-sized tv – these are a few of my favorite things, and now that I’m mostly done with my schoolwork for this semester I may enjoy them to the fullest. What’s that, you say? I said I’m only “mostly done”? Yeah, that’s the bummer of it all; despite finishing the two big ol’ papers and presenting/talking to one of my classes about Felicia Day, I’ve still got one more assignment to complete and two final exams with which to contend. Studies never end for a college student! Not that studying should ever end, we’re all on this wondrous Earth for a good chunk of time so we may as well learn about it and its people.

So there you have it: I’m just about done with school for the nonce and I’ll be able to fully enjoy the wintry nights. I’ll bundle up in a few layers of clothing every night, turn the heat up a li’l, and sit back with a controller in my hand. Things ain’t over, of course – this is just a lull in the persistent cycle of college/adult life – but I’m taking my time to enjoy myself when I can. I hope you folks enjoy yourselves too. Happy gaming!

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Whoa, it’s December

Hey everyone, it’s been a while since I last posted on this site. It’s not that I dropped all the games I’ve been playing – far from it, actually! I’ve just been pretty damn busy with schoolwork, and the next few weeks don’t look to be any lighter on the homework front so I figure I should get some posting off my chest before school drives me up the wall and even along the ceiling. Without further ado, then.

My God, what is that? Let's jump back 12 or 13 years, eh?

My God, what is that? Let’s jump back 12 or 13 years, eh?

Aye, for those in the know, that’s a Wii U with one of those snazzy new GameCube controller adapters and a Super Smash Bros. edition GameCube controller. I ain’t tryna brag, I’m just tryna demonstrate why I’ve been out of commission for so long: I’ve been playing a lot of Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U, you see. In a way, I feel ripped off because I already did so much work in the 3DS version to get trophies, and I’ve got to do the same basic stuff again (run through Classic and All-Star modes with all the characters, do the Home-Run Contest with urryone, et cetera) to ensure I’ve got all the damn unlockables I got in the 3DS game. It’s frustrating, to say the least.

Yet, it’s oddly soothing, in a mind-numbing, “I’ve done this so many times it’s brainless” sort of way. I’ve even decided to switch mains (I was super stoked to bring the Pac-Attack on the 3DS but now I’m shootin’ charge beams and missiles as Samus – woot) and playing online is a blast. I have to wonder if I piss people off with all those projectiles, but hey, as competitive types say, if you can’t deal with the pressure, that’s your bad.

Anyway, onto my growing backlog. Despite my severe lack of extra dollars, I managed to afford a few games during Nintendo’s “Cyber Deal” promotion – namely, Wario Land 3 and Metroid II: Return of Samus on the 3DS and Wario Land 4 on the Wii U. I can’t play Wario Land 3 until I beat Wario Land 2, which I haven’t even begun, and I can’t play Metroid II until I beat Metroid – which, even with the awesome save state feature on the 3DS’s Virtual Console, is frustrating. This means I have at least, like, five games I’ve got to play through this winter, not counting the Super Smash Bros. grindfest.

I would say I’m getting bored of my pixelated distractions, but that’d be a lie. If anything, I’m just anxious because games are turning my attention away from my schoolwork. Yeah, there are only about two or three weeks left in the fall semester, but I’ve still got to write two lengthy essays and take a few final exams – how will I continue to hone my missile-launching skills when I’ve got to type about Arthur’s fear of death in the Alliterative Morte Arthure? I suppose I’ll have to, you know, put the games down for a while. Damn. Damn it all to damnation. This semester has been dragging for a while but I can make it, man. I can get through this final hoop and proceed to enjoy the winter break. Cold air, warm controller, layers of clothing – I’m jazzed, folks. I’ve just got to get my homework done. Whenever that happens, I think you guys may want to expect some sort of retrospective – I’m still gathering the courage to put my unwanted games up for sale, and that means I’ll be looking at a lot of old games with fond memories attached. Happy gaming, folks.

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Three Years is Way Shorter Than I Remember

This is what I picked up at a midnight release three years ago:

As cold and compelling as ever, old friend.

As cold and compelling as ever, old friend.

I have a fond relationship with Skyrim. Three years ago, I was at a pretty low point in my life: I’d been out of work for a little more than a year, I had almost no money, and my final semester at the local community college offered little in the way of hope for the future. Oh, an Associate’s Degree in English? I’m afraid that won’t help you get the edge over this applicant who actually has, you know, experience. Anyway, bitter recollections and cynical snarky crap aside, Skyrim gave me something I desperately wanted back then: escape.

Yeah, I’m an escapist. I’m never quite sure how to handle my real-world problems, so I find the easily-managed, endlessly predictable virtual worlds of video games immensely comforting. Skyrim was released at the best and worst time for me: it was the best because I was in sore need of some good pixelated entertainment but it was also the worst because I become obsessed with other worlds. Obsessed. It could be a crappy-but-honest name for a cologne; you want other people to be obsessed with you? So do we, buy our product!

Anyway, I played Skyrim for what felt like a good half a year straight, booting it up every day and exploring the seemingly endless caves, crypts, and cities, taking in every detail like a piranha takes in unwary swimmers. I was voracious. It didn’t take long for my family to realize I was in love with the game; my sister got my mom to buy me the following gift for Christmas in 2011:

Not that I was gonna use this thing, anyway. I was a real explorer, man. I walked everywhere. What is fast-travel, anyway?

Not that I was gonna use this thing. I was a real explorer, man. I walked everywhere. What is fast-travel, anyway?

Of course, I didn’t really use the guide for anything in-game, but man, the pictures are real pretty, and I’m a word junkie so having a veritable tome filled with Skyrim knowledge just sits right with me. I had to haul it off my shelf so I could get a good look at it again; it really is beautiful. Too bad it’s out of date now, what with all the add-ons – d’oh!

As you can see, Skyrim was a big part of my recent life. Did I play it every day for three years? Well, no. Hell no, actually. There are other games, after all. I don’t even play Animal Crossing every day – I go through phases, playing every day for months on end then dropping the game completely for a while. Same thing with Skyrim: six or so straight months of playing, then whoosh, I hardly even remember it. A guy I met right around the time I put Skyrim away for a while started asking me questions about the game and I heard the machinery in my head whirring, trying to get the relevant information to my conscious mind so my mouth could put it in the air. About a year and a half ago, when I started at my most recent ill-fated job, I dropped random tidbits of Skyrim knowledge to the one “nerdy” co-worker I had just so we could have good conversations about the game. Skyrim is like that: it ebbs and flows, kissing the shore of one’s consciousness before retreating and playing coy. So what do I want to do with it now, three years after it first graced my sad, tired brain with its presence and pleasant distractions?

I'm gonna go with "Yes" and press A.

I’m gonna go with “Yes” and press A.

Yeah, I’m gonna continue from my last saved game. I’m in the midst of one of those flowing Skyrim phases, and the cold crisp air of the November nights meshes with the cold crisp air I imagine blowing through Skyrim while I run from town to town, hunting vampires and gathering ingredients for my mercantile alchemical endeavors. There’s always something to do in Skyrim; it’s an Elder Scrolls game, after all! Here’s to the past three years, and probably the next three as we await word on Fallout 4 and pray that The Elder Scrolls VI comes around before too long.

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I Got Good News and Bad News

The good news may be summed up by the following photograph:

I did it! I finished something!

I did it! I finished something!

I upheld my Halloween tradition by playing a Castlevania game to completion, but the bad news is that it wasn’t Super Castlevania IV: it was Aria of Sorrow. Since I bought the game and showed it to you fine folks I’ve been playing it whenever I get some free minutes, and it just so happens that I reached the endgame stretch the night before October 31st. I booted the game up yesterday and gave the harbingers of chaos and evil what-for; I’d fulfilled my promise, to myself and to whomever is reading this bloggy mish-mash of my thoughts, to finish a Castlevania game before the end of October. Praise the Sun!

Dark Souls reference aside, I do feel a little guilty for neglecting to complete my single-sitting play-through of Super Castlevania IV; long story short, last year I almost beat the game in one sitting before I had to set off for work. I figured I’d pull out all the stops this year and really dedicate myself to the task, but man, sometimes life throws a lot of tasks at you at once. Here’s the list: my brother needed help filming a six-second video for a contest, my girlfriend and I wanted to watch Nosferatu for the first time, and finally we had a Halloween shindig to attend, replete with complicated corset and white makeup for ghoulish appearances, and, well, Super Castlevania IV just takes longer to finish than I remember. Remember what I said about me having a tough time keeping time? Yeah, those few tasks on my list yesterday made it hard to focus on Super Castlevania IV. I started the game, though! Honest, I did!

See? Lookit that awesome gravestone!

See? Lookit that awesome gravestone!

Oh my, now a bat's flying out of it! That's not ominous.

Oh my, now a bat’s flying out of it! That’s not ominous.

For the coup de grace, some creepy mist. Like I said, totally not ominous.

For the coup de grace, some creepy mist. Like I said, totally not ominous.

Take your whips in hand and have at the night, hunters of darkness!

Take your whips in hand and have at the night, hunters of darkness!

If only my flair for the dramatic translated into game-defeating energy, I may have finished Super Castlevania IV yesterday, but alas, time and tasks compounded to draw me away from Dracula’s foreboding castle. Still, I won’t be too hard on myself, since I vanquished the horrible night in Aria of Sorrow and sent the forces of darkness back to their dank hidey-holes. It was a good day, and a good night, all things told.

And yet, I’m ready to put the creepy goodness of October behind me and take in the chill November air with open arms. You know, open, sweater-sleeved arms, maybe with a jacket to boot, because it does get mighty cold down in my neck of the woods. Er, my neck of the neighborhood. The woods are closer to the mountains. Anyway, as I was saying, I’m ready for November. That single-night shift from the haunting Halloween shadows to the creeping November nights is almost a magical thing, where wind changes from macabre whispers to inviting murmurs and every cold front smiles and says “Come on out, you’ve got a nice sweater on.” I love it. The holidays are fast approaching but they’re not the only reason to love the somber steps toward winter; every warm cup of coffee, every minute spent alone with a book, every slow jazz song and every smooth sonata seem perfect in the frigid grip of changing seasons. Yeah, it’s getting colder and I’m getting older, but I still have my books, my blankets, my notebooks, my games – I have a lot of things to enjoy and in the still November nights, I have a lot of time to enjoy my things. Here’s to hobbies, folks, and the greatest times to pursue them.

So come walking on your slow icy feet, winter, and bring some snowflakes along, please. Nothing’s better than bundling up and relaxing with a good book as snow falls to cover the industrial wounds and asphalt iniquities of man.

P.S. The week preceding this entry was a little crazy, by the way; I read for class, as usual, found out my brother and I need to attend an exhausting morning class every session now or we fail, wrote a nine page paper, performed one more presentation for a different class, talked to an adviser and changed my major (while adding another one so I can double-major), registered my car the day before the registration expired, and just damn, man, it felt like a whole lot of crap. Important crap, but crap nonetheless. I hardly had time for the few friends I have, but as I wrote earlier, it’s time to say goodbye to October, and that means waving “So long” to most of the busy work. Things should be simpler now, until the end of the semester brings finals, more essays, and stress before that sweet release into free time and freedom.

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Damn, I Did it Again

Uh oh, is that another Castlevania game on your Wii U?

Uh oh, is that another Castlevania game on your Wii U?

Why yes. Yes it is. I’ve got this problem when it comes to Castlevania, and another problem with enjoying modern convenience, and when you throw those problems together in the middle of October while Nintendo decides to embrace the creepy Halloween spirit you get this concoction that sucks money out of my bank account.

I knew it was coming. That title that’s highlighted by my Wii U’s cursor is Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, and it’s the beautiful GBA Castlevania game that tuned my heartbeat to the rising and falling of Dracula, and the cracking and smacking of a Belmont’s whip. That’s not supposed to be dirty, I promise. I anticipated the release of Aria of Sorrow on the Wii U Virtual Console, because the prior two weeks saw the releases of Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance on the Virtual Console, respectively – they’re the two handheld Castlevania games that preceded the masterpiece that is Aria of Sorrow. Seeing this fantastic October trend and knowing of the GBA Castlevania triumvirate, I figured Nintendo and Konami would use the third week of the month to grace loyal gamers with the third, final, and best GBA Castlevania game (ok, that’s definitely just my opinion but a lot of Castlevania fans agree – Aria of Sorrow is generally considered the best handheld Castlevania game).

Anywho, why do I sound a little disappointed in this development? Well, shit – it’s because I’ve entered one of my phases of video gaming A.D.D. I’ve got, oh, something like five or six games on my brain. I’ve been listing them throughout my posting to this blog, and with the addition of Aria of Sorrow and one more game to my list, things are getting out of hand.

Wait? Did I just mention another game I’ve added to my list?

Oh yeah. You've gotta know what this means. And if you don't, I'll lay it on ya.

Oh yeah. You’ve gotta know what this means. And if you don’t, I’ll lay it on ya. Also, look: it’s me! Way to take a ridiculous picture, genius.

Yeah, that’s the title screen from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. You know, that big awesome open-world game that helped bring “nerd culture” to the mass market? I don’t know if I’d been ignoring the trend or if my rampant love of Skyrim just forced me to face it, but the things I love that used to be “weird” or “uncool” suddenly became “normal” a few years back. It’s funky, but the trend continues and I shouldn’t feel bad about it – I can wear a Mario shirt or my Zelda hoodie and expect comments from strangers. It’s a little exhilarating. Once again, though, I’ve got to look at this example of a great game with a little trepidation. Here’s why:

Wow, cool nod to Norse poetry and OH MY WORD, YOU'VE PLAYED THIS GAME A LOT!

Wow, cool nod to Norse poetry and OH MY WORD, YOU’VE PLAYED THIS GAME A LOT!

Yep. Four-hundred-and-eighty-ish hours in the wild and ravishing lands of Skyrim. And that’s just one character – all told I’ve spent something like 600 hours playing the game. I got it at midnight when it launched on November 11th, 2011, and didn’t really slow down my wanderings for about a year or so. Even after I finally did take my foot off the Elder Scrolls accelerator, I’d keep coming back to it periodically – ya know, when DLC added more cool places to explore and more badass armor to craft. I’d jump in for hours on end and only stop to go to the bathroom or eat a little something. Don’t wanna pass out while I trek across ice floes in search of Horkers and ancient ruins!

As you can see, I get a little caught up in my games sometimes. October is my month to geek out on the creep-out stuff and I’ve been a Castlevania fan since I was thirteen or so – I think that’s when Aria of Sorrow was first released. Still, in the land I call home, October is also a month of deepening chills and frigid nights, when a sweater may need to couple with a jacket to keep the cold air at bay. Hence, my almost ritualistic return to Skyrim – it’s cold in real life, it’s cold in the game, it just feels right, all right? Sorry, I didn’t mean to go all Tarantino on you folks – I just have to be a little wary of my habits. When I first played Skyrim, I was unemployed and in my last semester at my local community college. My class schedule was almost bare it was so light, and I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into that land on the northeastern edge of Tamriel. Now, well, I’m unemployed but just now getting into the swing of university life; I’ve figured out how and when I can get away with laziness, and when I can be lazy I boot up a game. Why, the whole time I’ve been writing this I’ve had Aria of Sorrow ready to go, just waiting for me to click on the “Publish” button.

Thus, damn, I did it again – I added another time-sink to my life, one more distraction from a real goal or purpose. Ah hell, I’m getting cynical; getting an education is a purpose in and of itself. I’ve got ideas for stories floating around my head, I’ve got another few nights to finish that seven-page essay, and money ain’t so tight it’s strangling me. I think I can afford to play a game or two in my free time.

So here I go – back to Dracula’s castle for some soul-stealin’ and blood-spillin’. Happy gaming, folks!

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