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

Ah Crap, I Did It Again

This is what a good chunk of my Saturday night was all about:

Green suits your power suit, Samus.

Green suits your power suit, Samus.

You may remember how I vowed to complete Metroid II: Return of Samus before moving onto the second installment of the Wario Land series, and tonight, I managed to complete that mission. I know that wonky-looking 4 hour and 30 minute completion time may seem impressive for a first play-through, but once again, I have to confess that I used a map. I managed to defeat six or seven metroids before the black and white color scheme bored and befuddled me, so I found a good map online and pressed on from there.

Yeah, it ain’t the real deal with the glory of exploration and discovery and triumph over hostile forces, but seriously, I didn’t wanna look at another set of wonky black and white tiles (or, as you can see, green and black tiles via the 3DS Virtual Console’s “GameBoy Color color scheme”) while wondering which fork I followed wrong. I found it pretty cool that I could choose to view the game with the two color palettes it featured depending on which system one used to play it, but it wasn’t enough to stymy the monotony of the environment. It’s especially frustrating that I had to resort to a map again considering the general consensus that Metroid II is the most “linear” of the Metroid titles, and as I wound my way through the caverns of SR388, I could see from where those arguments come.

You see, in Metroid II, there are pools of acid that will block most progress until you defeat a certain number of metroids; in this way, the game forces players to contend with the hostile parasitic forces and adeptly boxes them in to figure out the limits of each area before opening up the next set of caves. I haven’t looked into any game-breaking glitches or movement techniques, but knowing the Metroid series, I’m sure there are ways to bypass some acid pools and completely ignore the “kill X number of metroids to progress” stipulations.

I know I sound a little bitter about the game, but it’s only because my gamer pride is a little wounded by my reliance on maps. I actually thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay, and the controls were smooth as silk. Nah, smooth as butter. Silky butter? Let’s go with that. I just have to face up to a sad fact of adulthood: even when I’m on break from school, my time is precious, and limited by the reality that I’ll be back at school in five weeks. So, I want to enjoy as many hobbies as I can in this period of time: I’ve got a stack of books I’d like to finish, a good handful of games I want to play, and even some tv shows I’d like to watch. This means that every minute spent messing around in a game that’s a little monotonous is just not cool.

So I’m doing that traditional grown-up thing where I blame most of my problems on a lack of time. While it’s true that time is of the essence as I move forward in my life, it’s also true that I’m way too good at wasting time: I sit at the computer and look up random bullshit way too often. I lurk message boards and read about games, which gets me stoked about those games, but then I play them for twenty minutes before I decide making another million bells in Animal Crossing is a more enjoyable activity. That’s pretty sad. I’d say I’m burnt out on games for the nonce, but that ain’t true – I’m gonna finish those Wario Land games. That is my solemn mission this winter.

So keep on gaming, folks. I know I’ll do the same.

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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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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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