The Baud Attitude GOTY 2018, and some other stuff.

So um I only really finished one major 2018 release, and it was Far Cry 5.  Let’s hear it for the unanimous game of the year winner! Woooooo fictional Montana crazy cult killing simulator!

Honorable mentions: Dark Souls Remastered (PS4) and Dark Souls Remastered (Nintendo Switch).

Other 2018 releases I played: Some Destiny 2 expansions, and a handful of smutty visual novels that mostly started with “Sakura”.  Also a 2-D action game called Icey and a game called “Nostalgic Train”, all about walking around an abandoned Japanese town interacting with the memories of people who used to live there.

I would also like to switch the positions of my top 2 games of 2017.  A year ago, it was Horizon Zero Dawn (#1) and Nioh (#2) and, well… I spent the last couple of weeks of December and the first day of January getting back into Nioh so I could play the DLC expansions, and then wrapping up miscellaneous trophies so I could add the Nioh platinum trophy to my virtual trophy case and in retrospect I think I liked it more than Horizon.

Major gaming accomplishments of the year: I spent a solid month wallowing in Halo lore and now understand just what the heck happened in the latest couple of Halo games.  I replayed the Mass Effect trilogy, this time with all of the DLC.  I got four platinum trophies, though admittedly three of them were for really kinda forgettable Love Live! rhythm games.

Oh, and I finally got over the grudge I’ve held against the Assassin’s Creed series since 2013 and played like four Assassin’s Creed games.

I finished off my backlogs for PS3, Vita, Wii, WiiU, and Xbox 360, so I got to unhook a bunch of systems and stick them in a footlocker.  Sadly I then bought three more Xbox 360 games but they are backwards compatible and are even Xbox One X enhanced so I can pretend they’re really Xbone games.

I played a bunch of 2017 Switch games in 2018.  Most notable was probably Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which could have been maybe a tiny bit shorter and could have explained its combat systems just a little better, but whatever.  It had a lot of heart to it.   I also had a surprising amount of fun with Mario Kart 8 DX.

I also made a blog post almost exactly one year ago where I detailed the eleven games I was going to let myself buy in the new year, and as of last week I had actually played through all eleven of them.  I have mostly stopped buying games that I’m never going to play!

I also stopped buying physical games, which has definitely helped somewhat with the clutter and which also saves me a few minutes at the grocery store each visit since I no longer find myself mysteriously checking out the home entertainment aisle looking for sales.

I played a ton of Overwatch.  From the back of an exercise bike.  And got my blood pressure down from “hey, you know how you have a family history of heart problems? You’re right on track to have your own!” to “wow, you’re actually in a healthy range.  Keep it up!”

And I bought a scooter.

So 2018 was a great year all-in-all.

So, goals for 2019:

Well, honestly, I should probably play fewer games.  Fortunately, I have fewer to play!  There are 64 games in my backlog and many of them are quite short.  Nine of them are Kingdom Hearts games since I got all of the pre-KH3 games by preordering KH3, so some of those may get written off since I played them on the PS2 and PSP.

Instead, I should get back to actually working on my Japanese.  I spent a solid four years of school getting my degree in the language and I’m still… reasonably competent but I have not pushed myself to practice.  So that’s one goal for 2019 that’s a little more noble than playing video games.

 

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I’m ready for Nico-Nico-Nioh-Ni

Coming up on the end of the year here, and I’m ending 2018 in the exact way I ended 2017 – playing Koei Tecmo’s Nioh.  I bought the expansions in, oh, March or so and I had been putting off playing them because they have a reputation for being rather brutal even in the context of Nioh, which is itself a pretty difficult game.

Still, Nioh 2 was announced just a few months ago and that made me want to get over my trepidation and give them a shot.

For the record, their reputation is 100% deserved. I booted Nioh, re-ran a couple of early missions to remind myself of how the controls worked and then dove into the very first expansion mission, which didn’t go well. It took me ages just to get to the last checkpoint shrine before the boss and then he absolutely ruined me on every attempt.  He was taking me out in two hits and I was not scratching him.  I wound up having to summon a visitor to help me kill him, which was a first.

Obviously I was not ready.

So I ground levels for a bit in co-op, which was fun and all but didn’t really seem to be making that much of a difference in my ability to survive the DLC missions, and then I decided to buckle down and push through the “Way of the Strong” mode which is Nioh’s NG+ difficulty.  It doesn’t work quite like the NG+ mode in Dark Souls, though – in those games, when you start NG+ you are probably overpowered for at least the first half of the game and only start feeling the difficulty ramp up at the midpoint.  Nioh’s NG+ starts with levels designed to challenge players from the word Go, and it’s made more difficult because the gear really doesn’t scale all that well over the course of NG+.  Gear for the first play through stops at gear level 150, and “Way of the Strong” introduces the notion of plus-levels, where you get gear that drops as 150 (+1) or 150 (+2) and so on, up to the last levels where I actually saw some 150 (+5) drops.

On the other hand, you can kind of blow through Way of the Strong fairly quickly just because you don’t need to do the optional sub-missions and because it turns out that if you know the way through the levels you can absolutely skip 90% of the fights in some of them and rush to the boss fights.  Not all… but enough to make it pretty quick.

It’s when you finish Way of the Strong that things change.  Drastically.  It unlocks a mode called “Way of the Demon” which is an even harder mode, but has a serious carrot.

Yeah.  Running missions on “Way of the Demon” makes all of the enemies harder, as you’d expect, but also adds random versions of NPCs that are bright red and load themselves up with all kinds of buffs while also debuffing the player.  They are very, very good at killing you… but they also explode into a beautiful shower of loot when you turn that around on them.

One of the drops I got from the introductory Way of the Demon was a level 180 (+11) piece of armor.  By the time I was done with all of my farming, I was decked out in some very shiny gear indeed, and  I’d gotten much better at not dying.  Souls and Souls-like games all  reward aggressiveness but will kill you if you go a hair over the line that separates “aggressive play” from “greedy play”, and fighting stuff on the harder difficulty level taught me exactly where that line was and how to push right up to it.

With THAT done, I went back to the DLC, which was pretty brilliant stuff.  It introduces two new weapon types and has some pretty kick-ass missions if you’re ready for them.  I almost felt bad for some of the bosses, because they just melted.  (And, yes, I went back to say hello to the one that had made me summon a helper the first time around. I didn’t need help on the rematch.)

The very last boss in the  third and final DLC did manage to kill me once, because I stood still just as the fight started while casting a buff on myself and she rewarded my immobility with a one-shot-one-kill attack.

So, there’s the extent of my strategy guide for the Nioh DLC:

First, don’t play it until you have played through the base game at least twice.

Second, when you get to the last boss… dodge.

 

Posted in PS4, Souls, videogames | Leave a comment

On the topic of toothpicks

There’s a bit in “So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish” where the main character is asked to reflect upon a society that feels the need to include instructions in a box of toothpicks.  Nowadays we have actually regressed even further, to the point where that would probably be replaced by a URL to a Youtube video where one could watch a five minute presentation on proper toothpick use, of course, but it’s still one of those little absurd moments that sticks with you.

I find myself looking for toothpick instructions a lot.  Not specifically TOOTHPICK instructions, mind you, it’s a metaphor.  I think it’s a metaphor.  I’ve never been great at categorizing literary devices.

Take, for example, this package of “Chip Star” brand potato chips from Japan.  I was recently making up an order with j-list and they had an offer where spending slightly MORE money than you otherwise intended to spend would result in a discount on your entire order, meaning that you would spend less money by buying more stuff.  Something like that.  In addition to my issues with literary devices, I’m also not particularly good at math.  Anyway, I wound up padding out my order with assorted snack products from Japan – mostly CalorieMate, which I can’t find locally, but also a couple of packages of Avocado & Mayonnaise-flavored potato chips because they sounded delicious.

For the record, they are amazing, and Lay’s needs to get right on stealing the formula for something I can buy off a shelf here.  Or maybe they shouldn’t since I should probably be watching what I eat a little more carefully.

I am not, however, here to review the chips themselves, though I suppose I’ve already mostly done that.  I’m here because I was putting one of the packages into the recycling bin and happened to actually read the top of it while I was doing so.

If my Japanese degree is of any use to me, it’s a warning to be careful not to cut yourself while taking off the lid.  On examination, I can report that the bottom edges of the lid are… well, they’re cardboard, and a little sharp I guess.  It’s not entirely unreasonable that you might twist it and wind up with a paper cut.

On reflection, I’m not sure whether this is closer to toothpick instructions or whether it’s more along the lines of the “may contain hot liquid” that you see on the sides of paper coffee cups.  It’s possible that someone accidentally cut themselves on the packet of crisps they were opening on the train on the way to a MAJOR client presentation and wound up bleeding all over their suit and didn’t have time to change before they got to the client site and the executives they were presenting to were so weirded out by the whole bloody shirt thing that they just threw the guy out and then they lost the contract and the company went under and hundreds of people were out of work and the CEO wrote a very strongly-worded letter to the potato chip company as a result.

I mean, it’s within the realms of possibility.

Or maybe someone just said “hey, we should put a warning here” and everyone secretly thought it was a little silly but nobody could come up with a really good REASON not to have a warning here and it came to happen.  A lot of design decisions happen this way, from my admittedly jaded experience.

Or it’s entirely possible that I have spent more time writing up a post talking about this safety instruction than I really should have and I should get to finding something productive to do with my day.  No, I think that’s a certainty.

 

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Old Soldiers Never Die…

No posts in a while.  Should say something.

My first tech job was working for a sound card manufacturer, and we bundled several… you’d call them codecs now, but we didn’t use that term back then.  Little shim programs that let our sound cards play back different audio formats for various educational applications.  One of them was for a weird IBM audio format used by an encyclopedia application, and we only had one sound file in that format to test with – that being the closing lines of MacArthur’s famous retirement speech.  As a result, I heard it several times a day.

It’s been on my mind a lot recently.  I’ve been working on a project for the last couple of weeks that has had me revisiting a lot of my bookmarks folder, and I have found that many sites and blogs that I used to enjoy have closed up shop or simply stopped posting.  At some point, I’ll probably run out of things to say on here and follow suit.

But, speaking about that project.

I’ve mentioned that I work in a technical field, and that one of the side effects of this is that I accumulate a lot of computer hardware, which allows me to have specific computers that fill specialized roles.  The biggest negative to that is that I had a ton of documents, photos, other personal files all spread across, well, at least seven different computers.

It’s been the cause of a quite a bit of frustration, because I have been on a bit of an uncluttering kick for the last few years and every time I get rid of some clutter, more appears to take its place.  It’s bad enough that it happens in the physical realm, but I have been losing things digitally as well.

So, my project has been to gather all of the data on to one well backed-up laptop and to consolidate the functions of several of those single-purpose machines I talked about.  It’s been going well enough, with the exception of dealing with a couple of decades of browser bookmarks.  All of the virtual machines now live on our media server instead of on a dedicated VM host, the two gaming PCs we have are now basically consoles with all non-gaming applications removed, etc.  I have a very large stack of hardware that I am going to stick in the garage with post-its on each computer, and a year from now anything with a post-it on there is going to electronics recycling.

Some of it is old enough that I may skip the post-it step.

I’ve also stopped buying any PC games that actually require a “gaming PC”.  Low-spec stuff that can run on the Iris Pro graphics in my consolidated laptop, maybe – but high spec stuff I’m sticking to console on.

One weird side effect of this is that my office is much colder now.  I didn’t realize just how much waste heat the various computers were pumping out and I am needing to actually run our central heating more often now.   It’s going to be interesting to see whether that raises our electric bills or whether they will drop now that I’m not running a bunch of essentially very inefficient space heaters.

Anyway, I’m still alive and that’s what I’ve been up to.  I have some other uncluttering stuff I’ve been doing, and I’ll probably farm that for a post or two in the near future as well.

Posted in organization | 1 Comment

On Resurrections

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I’ve spent the last thirty years or so working in what I’ll vaguely define as the “tech industry”, which has included jobs doing everything from grunt-level helpdesk work to being a build engineer and some light development work.  It’s not a great industry to be in if you like stability – there is always someone younger and smarter than you lurking in the shadows, and that’s ignoring the very real threat that whatever you’re doing could be moved overseas to be done by someone for half the price.

So, one of the best things you can do to keep your job is to find a really good niche to be in, and my niche has traditionally been “working on that one weird piece of tech that nobody else wants to.”

As an example, I once got a three-week contract job for a company that had a Windows application that plugged into an ancient IBM AS/400 mainframe, and I managed to show enough enthusiasm for the AS/400 that I turned it into nearly three years of regular paychecks.

In my current job, I am one of a few “Mac guys”, and it’s not a terrible niche to be in.  It lets me play up the stereotypical Cupertino Snob image and everyone gets a good laugh out of that.

Anyway, I keep up on all of the technology I need to know for my job by, well, having far too many computers around.  I use Windows PCs for gaming and heavy-duty video encoding, I have a Linux server that hosts VMs and is used for backing up all the other computers, and I always have two Macs around – one to serve as a media server and one to serve as a productivity machine.  I’ve been cycling through Macs every few years, and that brings me to the entire point of this post.

Essentially, every few years I buy a new Mac that becomes my work box, and the last Mac becomes the new media server.  This started in 2006 when I bought one of the first Intel Mac Minis, then continued in 2009 with a Macbook Pro, 2012 with an i7 Mac Mini, and most recently a late 2015 21″ iMac.

The iMac was not a great purchase, but it’s not entirely its fault.  I went for the model that had a traditional hard drive, just as applications were starting to be designed around SSDs, and the result was absolutely glacial performance.  Doing something as basic as launching Outlook or Excel meant that I was staring at a bouncing dock icon for over a minute, seething and willing it to LOAD FASTER.  The iMac has a decent CPU – it’s a 2.8Ghz quad-core i5 – but it is just painfully bottlenecked by the drive.

At any rate, I eventually got so frustrated that I bought Office for Windows, installed that on my gaming PC, and relegated the Mac to being a scanning station for my paper reduction project.

Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I needed to get some screenshots of Mojave for a presentation… and I didn’t have any Macs handy with Mojave installed, which was a problem.  I didn’t especially want to upgrade the version of macOS already installed on either my media server or on the iMac, because I was worried that it would break applications that I need.

Still, I had a spare SSD lying around, and an Inateck external drive enclosure that I’d picked up because it was kind of cool.

OK, drive enclosures aren’t “cool” by any means, but this one has a neat feature – a built-in USB3 hub.

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All of the ports are wrong-side-up, so I need to remember to plug things in face-down, but that is a small price to pay for the extra functionality.

Anyway, I did a clean install of Mojave to the external drive so I could boot off it and get screenshots, and then I needed to install Office and… wait, this thing is actually not painful to use.  I’d launch Excel and it would bounce twice and open.

Hmm.

That seemed a pretty good start… but I only had 250GB to play around with on this SSD and that just wasn’t going to work for the long haul.

I had a second drive enclosure hanging about, this one a Sabrent 4-slot enclosure that is basically designed for the career geek who has a lot of small drives stuck in the parts bin.  It is sadly not bootable, but it works well to consolidate a bunch of disks.

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I put in a 250GB SSD and a pair of 500GB traditional hard drives, with a slot to spare.  I put Steam and Battle.net on the SSD and am using one of the 500GBs as an iTunes drive, with the final 500GB drive just kind of there for… well, I’ll find a use for it, and there’s an empty slot in case I need even more room.

It feels rather silly to have an internal hard drive in this Mac that isn’t being used for anything – everything I’m doing is running off an external drive.  On the other hand, a computer that was one step above paperweight status is suddenly useful again.

 

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This is all Ian Fleming’s fault.

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I was not a particularly good student in my High School days.  To be quite honest, I developed a bad habit of not actually attending classes.  Our school district had an automated system which would call the houses of truant students to inform parents, and this probably would have worked much better if they had something in place to prevent students calling the school district head office to let them know that “we have a new phone number now, and can they update their records?” after which all of the calls went to my modem line.

On the other hand, I wasn’t very good at being a truant, either, since I would mostly skip school and walk to the local public library and read books.

Since I was a boy-type child, this eventually led me over to the “Fleming” shelf in fiction, and I systematically worked my way through all of his James Bond novels.  This is where I found “The Spy Who Loved Me”, which is an absolutely terrible book and which barely features Bond at all.  The only thing I took away from it was that the main character – not Bond – drove something called a “Vespa” and that it was Super Cool.

It wasn’t until some years later that I actually saw a Vespa dealership, and had the following three thoughts:

  1. Wow, those are real things and weren’t made up for the book.
  2. Those ARE, in fact, Super Cool.
  3. Oh my god, those are also super expensive.

To be fair, Vespas aren’t that much compared to a car… but they are still a little pricey.  So, from that point on, I would occasionally wander past Vespa dealerships, look through the windows, confirm points (2) and (3) above were still true, and sadly move on.

It doesn’t help that living in Oregon means that the practicality of any vehicle without a roof is somewhat limited.

Visiting Japan and China opened my eyes to the existance of an entire world of things that looked like Vespas but that were not Vespas, but I kind of sorted them into the category of “oh, those are only available in Asia and I will still never own one.”

Then came Yuru Camp.

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If you haven’t seen it, it’s one of a thousand “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things” animes – in this case, the cute thing being camping.  It is full of helpful tips on how to camp in the winter and how to choose camping gear and I imagine it has inspired many a tent purchase.

One of the characters has a not-Vespa, and I was curious what it actually was and threw some words into Google.  It’s a Yamaha Vino, which isn’t itself all that important.  What IS important, however, is that one of the first results from my search was the product page.

The American product page.

The sudden discovery that there are many not-Vespas that ARE sold in the US and that are much more budget-friendly but still Super Cool.

One thing led to another, and I found myself waking up at a ridiculously early time to stand in a cold parking lot with a dozen other hopefuls trying to earn their motorcycle licenses.  I was, unsurprisingly, the only one taking the class on a scooter, and there were one or two snide comments about this.  As they clunked their way manually shifting up and down gears, I tried not to be too smug about the automatic transmission I was enjoying.

Three days later, I had my motorcycle endorsement and could begin the process of, first, purchasing safety gear and second, finding a not-Vespa to call my own.  The Yamaha Vino, sadly, was right out.  It’s designed for a smaller and lighter person.  The Kymco scooter I eventually bought, on the other hand, is actually big enough that a 183cm guy can fit on it without his knees bonking the steering and LOOKS rather like the Vespas I had an unhealthy attraction to from an early age, but was roughly half the cost of buying one.

1000km later – it just had its first service – this may be one of my best purchases ever.  I am not a very confident driver in a car, because I have a very poor notion of where the corners of the car are.  On a scooter, there is absolutely no question of what space you are occupying.  There’s certainly a great deal more to worry about if someone else decides to make use of the space you are occupying, but that’s why I ride a brilliant red scooter and wear enough hi-viz gear to blind a careless onlooker.

I think it is far more normal for teenage boys to develop a crush on a red Ferrari and dream all their lives of eventually owning one and then finally afford one when they are in their mid-life crisis and also pick up a blonde twenty thirty years their junior to go with the Ferrari. For all I know, the blondes are actually stocked at the Ferrari dealership.

For me?  I prefer my own take on the whole mid-life crisis thing.

Also I should buy a tent.

Posted in gadgets | 1 Comment

Try Holding With Both Hands: Dark Souls on the Switch

Back in September, I decided to play the PS3 version of Dark Souls, since I’d never played the console versions and kind of wanted to see just how bad Blighttown really was.

It’s bad.  Woo boy is it ever.  I think it drops to single-digit frame rates in places, and I have a deep respect for anyone who toughed that out back in the day.

Then I kind of just kept on playing and wound up beating it in a hair under 15 hours, which was almost exactly a quarter of the time I’d taken to beat the game on my first playthrough a couple of years ago.  I’m not going to challenge any speed running records, but I felt good about that.

…it got me thinking, though.  What would a Dark Souls run look like if I focused on an efficient path through all of the bosses and gear and so forth?   I mean, with the caveat that saving Solaire from going insane was 100% non-negotiable.

It was a fun mental exercise, anyway… and then came the Switch port of the game and suddenly the urge to take it from mental exercise to practice was too strong to resist.

Advance warning: The rest of this post is going to make absolutely no sense to anyone who hasn’t played the first Dark Souls at least once or twice.

Before I get into that, however, I am really impressed with the way the game translated to the portable system.  Visually, this is a no-compromises version, shrunk down to a 7 inch screen.  I didn’t try it in TV mode, but I expect it looks the same, just at 1080P instead of 720P.

The lighting in Anor Londo is one of my favorite things about the first Dark Souls.

The one drawback of the small screen was that it DID make the Ornstein and Smough fight even harder than normal.  I kept wiffing dodges that I should have made easily, and I got roadblocked there for far longer than I expected.  I did make it harder on myself by killing Smough first, of course – I don’t know Super Ornstein’s move set very well, but I really wanted his armor set for curse resist in the Seath fight.

The other boss fight that gave me unexpected difficulty was Gravelord Nito, though that at least only took three tries.  This is my fifth time through Dark Souls, and the first time I’ve actually died in the Nito fight.  He was hitting me with some attacks I don’t think I’ve ever seen before AND I was getting a crazy amount of aggro from his adds.  Very embarrassing.

One small blessing, however, was that Bed of Chaos didn’t take many attempts.  It’s usually a really annoying fight, but this time was just in and out before I even had time to start cursing.

Oh, and everyone’s favorite archer duo?  The first time I faced off against them, it was an arduous process of hiding behind a pillar and occasionally poking my head out and getting one arrow fired at them and about a dozen fired in return.

This time?

I could have done that a little better if I hadn’t dorked up the roll, but… well, I’m content.

I also had some weird targeting issues in the Duke’s Archive.  I don’t remember ever having lock-on issues there before, but there were times when I would try to target an enemy that I was nearly touching and I’d get a camera reset instead.  I had a few deaths in there that I absolutely should not have had.

Still, setting a couple of frustrating moments aside, I think I did a pretty good job with both my mental exercise and with executing on it:

Under 11 hours!

And yes, my valiant undead warrior, vanquisher of lords and linker of the first flame was named “Becky” because one of my pet quirks with the Souls games is that my characters must all have names that conjure up the dizziest of ditzy girls.  Previous characters have included Tiffany, Conqueror of Worlds.

So, quick overview.  I started a Cleric with the Master key gift.  I immediately picked up Astora’s Straight Sword and the Zweihander, and those took me through the entire game enchanted to +5 and +14 respectively.

Did I say +14?  This was off the very first Darkwraith I killed, and I got a SECOND slab only a few kills later.  Some days, the RNG gods are kind.

I also picked up the Grass Crest Shield, which I used for everything except for the trip down to Quelaag.  For that, I used the Spider Shield.  I took the Grass Crest Shield up to +5 just to use up some spare titanite shards.

Armor sets used: Elite Knight’s Armor, Ornstein’s Armor, Havel’s Armor for a couple of fights when I just decided to tank things in the face.  I didn’t upgrade any of these.

I did all of the mandatory bosses and a few optional ones – Capra Demon, Centipede Demon, Firesage – but I skipped the Taurus Demon, Moonlight Butterfly, the whole Painted World, Dark Sun Gwyndolin and the Gaping Dragon.  I went back to the Asylum for the Rusted Iron Ring but didn’t bother to kill the Stray Demon while I was there.  Boring fight anyway.

Now, playing this way obviously misses HUGE chunks of the game.  As I mentioned, I didn’t even fight the Taurus demon, and the entirety of Sen’s Fortress was sort of a barely-memorable blur.  This would be the absolute worst way to play a game for the first time.

But, it was pretty fun for the fifth. 🙂

 

Posted in Souls, Switch, videogames | 1 Comment