Well, this is just ridiculous.

Few single player games off the backlog recently.  I played through Uncharted 4 and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, which were both quite enjoyable romps.  With one of the early Uncharted 4 levels being an underwater level, I was fully expecting some shark action, but I’m happy to say that this turned out to be an unwarranted fear.

Of the two, I think I enjoyed The Lost Legacy more.  Uncharted 4 was a little too… grounded?  Apart from a very cool bit where you’re climbing around the insides of a giant clock, it really didn’t have any huge and improbable machines to clamber all over, while Lost Legacy had several.  It also had a LOT of combat, which is my least favorite part in any of the games.

On the plus side, it had a waterfall with a cave behind it, and there was something to pick up in the cave, so that’s one of my pet peeves with the series taken care of.

Both looked spectacular on the PS4 Pro.

Between those two, I spent a couple of fun nights playing though Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, which is widely considered to be too short and too easy.

I am rubbish at platform games. so neither adjective applies.  I lost count of the number of times I died trying to navigate a particular bit with disappearing platforms, but it was a very large number.  Bosses were easy, anyway, and I wound up stubbornly brute-forcing my way to 100% completion after about 8 hours of falling off things.

But getting games off the backlog isn’t nearly as fun as my latest flirtation with insanity.

A few months back, I bought a new graphics card.  It came with a Uplay key for – I am only going to use the full name once – “Tom Clancy’s The Division 2″, which was a welcome pack-in inasmuch as I’d played the heck out of the first The Division.

After playing through two games involving lots of waist-high walls and shooting mans and not enjoying it, I figured that a game involving waist-high walls and shooting mans that I WOULD enjoy was a good plan, so I went to start it.

…on my PC monitor.  Which is a not awful 24″ monitor, but which felt kind of constricted after playing through several console games while sitting entirely too close to a 42” screen.

But, you know, the PC is pretty close to the TV so all I need is a longer HDMI cable and I’m in business, right?  I eyeballed the distance and figured that I needed one about 9 feet long.

I went through my cable bins. I have a lot of cables. I turned out to have 8 spare HDMI cables, all of them between 6 feet and 2 meters in length.

I fumed.

Then I started thinking.  The PC monitor I use is a 1920×1200 monitor.  I happen to have two 1600×1200 monitors around.  I bought a new video card recently, maybe I can put all of these together and see what happens?

FOR THE RECORD:

  1. The color isn’t quite right.  I tweaked it a bit after taking this photo and the monitors are a lot closer to a consistent color tone, but the middle is still just a touch more red.  All three of these screens are at least a decade old so I am not expecting miracles.
  2. Diagonal lines that go between monitors don’t match up.  It’s a combination of the monitor bezels and the side monitors having slightly shorter screens.
  3. Getting all three monitors going at once was an exercise in frustration.  I could get two working consistently and the third would flash in and out.  The trick, eventually, was realizing that I needed to go into the BIOS and disable the CPU’s integrated graphics chipset.
  4. None of the above matter because it turns out that playing The Division 2 in 5120×1200 resolution is practically a religious experience.

I have never quite understood the lengths that a certain subset of PC gamers will go to in order to get their ultrawide setups working.  This has… changed me.

And all because I couldn’t find a longer HDMI cable.

 

Posted in PC Gaming, PS4 | 1 Comment

These games are trash, and so am I.

 

So, the new Steam Beta has a library view that shows all of your games with poster-style art, and it looks GREAT.  I think it’s a huge improvement from the old library view with the horizontal icons.

…well, it looks great if the game publishers have uploaded new art, anyway.  If they haven’t…

…not great.  And, let’s be honest, a lot of these games are never going to get updated with better-looking art.

Fortunately, Steam allows you to set custom art, and people in the Steam community have already uploaded templates that you can use to make the new poster-style icons, and I realized that a lot of visual novels are made using the Ren’Py engine which means that they are super easy to rip apart so you can take the art assets out, and…

Long story short, I made a set of Steam icons for all 19 of Winged Cloud’s Sakura visual novels.  Some of them are better than others.  It was kind of a fun reason to actually load up Photoshop Elements and play around with it, so even if nobody else ever uses these I feel like I learned some stuff.

Here’s an example, using Sakura Spirit.

The original library icon:

My version.  Obviously this is using Winged Cloud’s art and assets and hopefully they will not be too upset.

And the whole collection.  Well.  All 19 of the Steam games I own.  If they have made any recently I may not have them:

I put all of the posters up on a Google Drive share if you would like to download them.  I’ll pull this if they put up official new art or if I’m asked to.

 

Posted in eroge, PC Gaming, videogames, visual novels | 1 Comment

On Controller Resurrections

A few years back, I picked up an 8bitdo SNES30 controller for use with emulators, and it’s gotten a new life recently thanks to 8bitdo updating their firmware to add Nintendo Switch compatibility.

Granted, it was a pain to actually get paired to the Switch.  And it doesn’t have a USB-C interface for charging, and I’m sure I could find all sorts of other things to complain about, but it works very well for 2D games.

Look, basically I am trying to get across my general happiness with the company’s product line.  Moving on.

In addition to selling bluetooth controllers that are basically clones of 8-and-16-bit console controllers, 8bitdo sells a line of replacement boards that add bluetooth functionality to your existing old controllers.  Well.  Technically they “rip out the guts of your old controllers and swap in a new PCB” but that doesn’t sound as nice.  They cost about twenty bucks, which is pretty cheap compared to a new gamepad, but I’ve never felt like I needed one…

…and then they released a PCB for the Sega Saturn controller, which is probably the apex of 2D gamepad design.  I have a lot of Saturn hardware lying around, but it’s pretty rare that I hook up an actual system.  I do use the controllers quite often, however.

Up until now, I have been using a very clunky “PC Joy Box” that worked but that was kind of a pain to haul out and hook up. So replacing that wired solution with a wireless one sounded like a dream.

Problem is, I was an early Saturn adopter.  Like, “we’re going to launch the system five months early to get a head start on the 32-bit console wars and how could this possibly have any negative effects?” early.  So most of my controllers are the original MK-80100 style, not the later MK-80116 controllers that were the standard controller in Japan and other civilized regions.

MK-80100 on the left.

The 8bitdo site only shows the MK-80116 controller, but I figured I’d order the board and see if it could work with the larger controller anyway.  Worst case scenario, I DO have one MK-80116.

The board came in, I opened up the controllers to see (side note, screws that have been in-place for 24 years do NOT like to budge), and…

…yeah.  The two controllers have completely different guts.  The MK-80100 has a weird three-part PCB connected by jumper wires that frankly give me the screaming heebie-jeebies, so I closed that one right back up and will pretend I didn’t see it.

On to the new PCB!

The bluetooth kit has the new PCB, a charging cable, a little screwdriver, and a bag to store your old PCB and cable.  That’s a nice touch.  Folding knife not included.

It took like 30 seconds to swap the boards, mostly because the conductive pads did not want to lift off the decades-old PCB.

Syncing it was literally as easy as opening the bluetooth preferences pane and pressing the start button on the gamepad, then selecting the “8BitDo S30 Modkit” device.

Seriously, I am not used to things behaving quite this nicely.

Downsides, because there are a couple:

1) The PCB includes replacement switches for the shoulder buttons, and they are softer than the original Saturn microswitches. You lose the lovely sharp click.

2) On a Mac, at least, virtually nothing recognizes the controller.  I tried a few different Steam games and couldn’t get them to work.  Steam “Big Picture” mode sort of recognizes the controller (you can use it to navigate the Big Picture UI), but I couldn’t get it configured through the Steam Controller interface.

OpenEmu, on the other hand, works just fine.

One thumb up. It would have been two thumbs, but I had to take a photo with the other hand.

All in all, a very positive solution to the “I have a bunch of old controllers around and would like to find a use for them” problem, which is… well, it’s basically the definition of a First World Problem but I live in the first world and I have problems here.

 

Posted in Saturn, videogames | 2 Comments

Sony has gotten quite good at this internet thing.

I’ve been FFXIV-clean for nearly a week now, which will change when the weekly reset happens tonight and I need to log on and spend about three hours doing stuff that I will then be locked out of doing again for a week.  It’s kind of a nice design for an MMO in that regard.

Anyway, I have been finding other games to play.  I wound up playing through the entirety of Lifeless Planet again after mentioning it in my last post, I am trying to get to grips with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, and I started Uncharted 4.

Uncharted 4 is pretty good! I have a couple of quibbles with it that I will get to in a few sentences, but it really is a textbook example of how to bring a character out of retirement after the very satisfying conclusion to Uncharted 3.

So.  I started Uncharted 4 two nights ago, got up to the beginning of Chapter 5, decided it was a good place to call it quits for the night, and then did not play it last night.  I was watching some anime instead.  The way I spend my evenings has not markedly changed since I was sixteen, and I acknowledge a certain lack of maturity here.

So, I’m not sure whether the email I got from Playstation this morning was based on “Person has started playing a video game” or “Person started to play a video game and then did not play it the next night, let’s give them a subtle prompt to get back to it”, but…

I’ve mentioned before that I think the best thing about the last couple of generations of consoles is that developers are able to use metrics to design games that people will play and finish, as opposed to front-loading everything with in-house play testers. This sort of thing is great in my books.

Yes, admittedly, a little creepy if looked at through a certain lens.

Anyway.  I mentioned a couple of quibbles with Uncharted 4.  Really, it’s just the one quibble, which is the grappling hook gadget that they added to spice up the traversal actions.

Nate is amazingly well-animated – all of the characters are – and it’s obvious that the Naughty Dog mo-cap team worked a lot of long nights getting everything to flow like you were controlling a real, if impossibly athletic and fit, human being.

Then they added the grappling hook, which has these impossibly fast and physics-defying animations whenever it’s released from a hold.  It’s a dumb thing to be bugged by, but just stands out in a bad way.

And yes, that is the worst thing I can find to say about this game.  Maybe it will have a super annoying level later on that I can complain about.  There’s already been an underwater level, if we get an “underwater level BUT WITH SHARKS” I already have about half the rant post written in my head.

I don’t like sharks.

Until next time!

Posted in PS4, videogames | 2 Comments

Ports, Ports and more Ports, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Switch.

Welp.

It’s been over a month since the last time I put anything up here, so anyone who WAS reading the blog before I went off into my crazed FFXIV addiction is probably gone.  I guess I can start from scratch!

I haven’t been buying many of the Big Damn Switch Releases lately.  Part of that is that, well, I’m playing an MMO and I have learned to curtail my spending habits when I am playing an MMO and part of it is that I got kind of burned by Smash Brothers and New Super Mario Bros, neither of which really clicked with me.  There’s a new Fire Emblem out, and I want to play it, but I am given to understand that it’s a couple hundred hours worth of time sink and that terrifies me.

On the other hand, I am absolutely in love with the way that publishers seem to be digging deep into the obscure corners of their back catalog and reviving stuff for Nintendo’s Little Console That Could, so maybe I will rave about that a bit.

The hook of Lifeless Planet is that you’re an astronaut on a one-way mission to explore an uninhabited planet, but when you get there you find a row of telephone poles (power lines maybe?) leading to a deserted Soviet-era town.  Then things get weird.

It’s not a particularly pretty game, but it kills it in terms of atmosphere and mystery.

It’s also a 32-bit Mac game, and Apple is killing 32-bit apps with macOS 15.  Getting a Switch version comes at the perfect time.

Persian Nights: Sands of Wonders is a hidden-object adventure game I played a couple of years back when I was in the middle of a crazy HOG binge.  It’s a game that’s definitely on the short & easy side, and it’s a 64-bit game so there aren’t any compatibility concerns on the horizon, but it was also $1.49 on sale and I wanted to see what a HOG would look like on the Switch’s built-in screen.

It looks pretty good!  This isn’t the best example, but the graphics are really sharp.

Controls-wise… it’s a bit of a mixed bag.  I tend to play HOGs on a low-end Windows tablet, even if it chugs a bit when asked to keep up with even the low requirements most of these games ask, and touch screen controls are definitely the way to go.  Sadly, the Switch version demands controller use even in handheld mode.

Still, a buck-fifty is literally pocket change and these games are always good for a short burst of feeling like you’re using your brain, even if just a tiny bit.

Blades of Time should never have gotten a re-issue. I’m not sure how much it cost Gaijin Entertainment to make back in 2012, but I’m absolutely certain they didn’t make their money back.  It was a fan-service-heavy hack-and-slasher that came out at the tail end of the generation and got hit hard by the first whispers of the new puritanism that we are still dealing with today.  I particularly adored the multiplayer, when I could find opponents, and I almost NEVER dip into the multiplayer for any game.

It’s another game that suffers from compatibility issues on existing platforms.  The Mac version stopped working a couple of OS revisions ago and the publisher dropped it because it wasn’t making them enough money to fix the issues.  There’s a Windows version, of course – that’s where I played it originally – but I have had so many things break on recent versions of Windows 10 that I have limited hope for future compatibility.  The 360 version never got added to the backwards compatibility list, either.

The Switch version apparently has some technical issues of its own, but it’s on a stable hardware platform.  For all five of us who liked the game, that’s a good thing.

I cannot say enough good things about all of the arcade ports that are coming to the Switch.  Some of them, admittedly, are barely more than a ROM dump with an emulator wrapper… and then there’s the Sega Ages series of releases, which do things like take the original Virtua Racing, clean it up and upscale it to 1080P with polygon edges so sharp you could cut yourself.

Oh, and they added 8-player races, online leaderboards, and a plethora of ways to turn down the original difficulty so mere mortals might actually be able to finish an arcade-mode race against the clock now and again.

Back in The Day, Virtua Racing was a title that I stopped paying attention as soon as the first Daytona USA cabinet hit the arcade, because I was quite shallow.  Twenty-five-years later, I can appreciate it a little more.  I can also recognize how carefully-tuned it was to suck the player’s money away.  Seriously, this thing cost four times as much as your average arcade machine to play and demanded near-perfection from the player.

Now that practicing is free, I may even finish a race on “Medium” without needing to give myself extra time on the clock.  My best record so far was finishing with only  a five second buffer, so I’m getting closer…

Oh, and Sega Saturn-era Mahjong games.  Seriously, what will they NOT port to Switch at this point?  We’ve gotten Super Real Mahjong PV, PVI, and P7 so far, and there are hints that MightyCraft is considering porting SRM Graffiti to fill out the earlier entries.

I will stop here, but not for lack of stuff to talk about.  The Switch is getting weird indie games.  It’s getting revived obscure games from the 360 era.  It’s getting 80s-and-90s arcade games, Saturn games, naughty Shogi training games, Sega Master System games… when it comes to power, it’s not going head-to-head with dedicated consoles, but for this stuff it doesn’t need raw power… just a publisher willing to go “eh, might make a few bucks” and throw something up on the eShop.

 

Posted in Switch | 1 Comment

What the well-dressed Viera is wearing this season…

Pictured: A really mean fairy.

I am still alive. Honest!

Life has, however, been getting in the way of doing anything worth writing about.  In the last few weeks, we’ve lost one cat and another has developed not-terribly-serious kidney problems that nonetheless have me giving him subcutaneous fluids every other night.  My wife and I both have needle phobias.  This does not make for fun times for anyone involved, much less the cat that is being jabbed with a needle in the back of the neck.

But enough seriousness.

When I have been getting time to goof off with a controller in my hands, it’s been spent on Final Fantasy XIV.  I am officially in the stage of the game where I am more or less playing to make my numbers bigger, and that is where I would normally put an MMO aside…

…except that it’s actually kind of FUN to make my numbers bigger in this one, and I have been diving into some of the post-game raid content.  It’s… well, it’s different from raiding in pretty much any MMO I’ve played before.  I mean, sure, the basic ideas are the same – you get a bunch of your closest friends* together, walk up to a boss, die repeatedly until you’ve figured out how to stop dying, curse a bit because you didn’t get the loot you wanted, and then keep killing it until either you have your loot or until the group disbands due to internal drama.

* Much of the time they aren’t really all that friendly.

Where FFXIV differs in a huge way is that bosses are, for lack of a better term, solvable.  They always do the same attacks at the same time, which means that you can time your attacks and movement around a boss script that never varies.  This is, frankly, an alien concept, and it has taken me a long time to get used to the idea.

The boss that I have been beating my head against for the last few weeks is a big damn fairy named Titania, because someone at Square is a Midsummer Night’s Dream fan. She drops really nice looking weapons.

My character uses big damn axes.  I like pretty things.  A big damn axe that looks like butterfly wings is about as pretty as you get.  It only took me three wins to luck into this one.

I have no idea how many times my groups failed to kill this boss. A low estimate would be  20 or more times over several nights, which was getting a little depressing and had me really leaning into the is-this-worth-it? line of questioning that usually results in me rage quitting a game.

Now I have beaten her, I am flush with the glow of accomplishment, and all that rage is a thing of memory.  Yeah, baby, feel that dopamine kick right in the old lizard brain.

Square also dropped a series of 8-man raids a couple of weeks after the expansion launched, and they are far more forgiving and fairly shower you in loot.  It’s only taken about four weeks of raiding one night a week to reach the point where all of my stuff MATCHES, which is really the end game for any MMORPG.

Just look at all that wonderfully coordinated armor that will be made obsolete as soon as the next set of raids launches.

Anyway, short version, I have reached the “loot treadmill” stage with FFXIV but it has not yet annoyed me to where I stop playing.  Also I would like my cats to stop making me poke them with needles.

 

Posted in MMORPG, PC Gaming | Leave a comment

On hard-coded values and unintended consequences.

Serious degrees of navel-gazing going on in today’s post.  You are forewarned.

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve gotten through the story content in the latest Final Fantasy XIV expansion and decided to start checking out some of the end-game encounters.  Specifically, I took a couple of shots at “The Dancing Plague (Extreme)”, which is a turned-up-to-11 version of one of the mandatory story encounters and which drops the current best weapons in the game.

I didn’t actually beat it, but I felt like I was doing better on every attempt.  I’ll try a few more times in the coming week.

Anyway, one of the fight mechanics is needing to dodge an area effect spell that inflicts a “Confusion” status effect on your character.  This makes you lose control of your character  at a point in the fight where not having control of your character is a very bad thing, since he or she suddenly starts running around randomly instead of going to the very specific safe spot he or she needs to be in.  Seeing this happen reminded me of one of my favorite stories from the days of Everquest, which I will now inflict upon you.

Some background.

Everquest was designed during the days of dial-up internet, so it wasn’t too weird to lose connection to the game.  In anticipating this, the developers didn’t want to leave you completely defenseless as the result of a momentary dropout, so they coded player characters to behave as non-player characters for the duration of their “linkdead” status.  So your character would defend himself or herself, not terribly WELL but well enough to maybe survive the fight they were in at the point where your internet decided to drop.

That’s one important thing to know.  The other important thing to know is that the original Everquest was designed with a level 50 cap, and the developers wanted to make sure that anything you were fighting in a raid encounter couldn’t be trivialized by crowd-control spells designed for monsters you were fighting in group content, so they put in a hard cap where spells like sleep, fear, and stun wouldn’t affect any monsters above level 52.  Spells cast on player characters did NOT have this same cap, mind you.

OK.  So, as time went on and Everquest started accumulating expansions and level caps, most of these hard caps got lifted.  Fear, however, stayed stuck with a level 52 cap from 1999 all the way until March 2005, when it was removed to address a long-standing complaint from people playing the game’s “Necromancer” class.

Again, my head is full of this sort of trivia and I really wish I could scrub some of it to make room for more important stuff.

Where this all comes together is with a raid fight where you face off against an undead dragon named Aerin’Dar, the Crystalline Dragon.

For obvious reasons.

Aerin’Dar was part of the 2002 expansion, Planes of Power, and he wasn’t much of a challenge, even if you counted the ten guardian golems he came with.  He really was just one of a set of fairly easy encounters that you needed to overcome in order to gain access to the REAL raid zones.

One of his few mechanics was a nearly-irresistible Fear spell that would make everyone stop what they were doing and run away for six seconds, while also doing a little bit of damage (700 hp, maybe 15% of the average player’s health).  Not terrible, really.  It usually meant a few missed heals and maybe a couple dead players, but as long as you were on your toes recovery wasn’t an issue.

So.  March 2005 rolls around, and I am part of a rather behind-the-times guild just going through Planes of Power raid content, and we are off to kill Aerin’Dar for the umpteenth time to get keys for some new members because they can’t get into the real raid zones without slapping the crystalline punching bag around.

Anyway.  This is where we discovered the interaction of quite a few interesting coincidences.

Aerin’Dar casts his fear spell, which causes everyone to lose control of their characters.  Rather than running around for a few seconds, however, everyone keeps running away, defenseless, and the pushover dragon and his laughable golem guards utterly massacre us.  The fight takes place in sort of a big fishbowl of a cavern and the players got to watch their characters literally climbing the walls to get away from this suddenly-much-more-menacing dragon, unable to do anything about it.

A couple more attempts at the fight went just about as well, so we retreated to lick our wounds and figure out what went wrong.

It turned out to be a combination of a few things.

  1. Aerin’Dar’s fear spell had always been designed to last for 42 seconds, not 6 seconds, and was supposed to be a damage over time spell causing 700hp damage every 6 seconds, enough to kill most players or at least bring them down to an extremely vulnerable point.
  2. On the other hand, a designer back in 1999 who was tasked with deciding what happened to players that were feared decided to just set them to “linkdead” status, so players would behave like NPCs for the duration of the fear.
  3. This meant that your player was seen as an PC when hit by the fear spell, so you wouldn’t be immune – but, after taking that initial damage and running away for a few seconds, the game would look at your character and go “here is an NPC that should be immune to the fear spell currently affecting it, remove the fear effect which also removes the damage-over-time effect.”
  4. You would quickly regain control of your character and resume beating up the dragon.

So removing (3) above fixed a long-standing bug that had made this encounter FAR easier than intended for nearly three years.  Only, since it had been bugged for so long, nobody had ever fought the as-originally-intended version to see how utterly brutal the full-duration damage spell was, or how the pathing for fleeing NPCs in Aerin’Dar’s chamber ignored the laws of gravity – with a short duration fear, you couldn’t reach the sides in the first place, much less climb them to the ceiling with a swarm of golems beating on you the whole time.

Anyway, it got patched in reasonably quick fashion.  Still, 14 years later it still comes to mind whenever I see a bunch of MMO characters running around wildly.

I may have even told this story before on this same blog at some point.

Hopefully I told it better this time.

 

Posted in MMORPG, videogames | Leave a comment