September 2023

September has been a pretty good month for me, once we got past the stupid heat of the first half. We’ve had days where we were able to keep the doors and windows open for a few hours in the mornings and evenings and having some fresh air has been lovely. October should be better. I love October and November.

Gaming wise, I kept to my plan of choosing a selection of games and sticking with them. I dabbled a bit outside of this group, mostly to earn Microsoft Rewards Points, but overall here’re the games I played in September:

  1. Starfield
  2. The Witcher 3
  3. Final Fantasy XVI
  4. Persona 4 Golden

The first two weeks of September were pretty much 100% devoted to Starfield which I almost instantly fell in love with. I racked up 25 hours in the first week (thanks in large part to the long Labor Day weekend) which, for me, is a huge number of hours to spend gaming in a single week. About mid-month it became clear that this was a game that I was going to stick with for the long term, so I started mixing in the other 3 titles.

Persona 4 Golden was in second place, I reckon. I don’t actually track my play time but I had a couple of weekend days that were 100% Persona so I assume it comes in second after Starfield. I think a Persona game finally got its hooks into me, though I have to admit I find the actual dungeon diving pretty dull (well, aside from discovering the truly bizarre enemies we have to fight). It’s the social stuff and story and I’m invested in.

The Witcher 3 continues to be a slow and enjoyable burn. I play it almost like it’s an MMO. There’s something about it that just feels comfy to me, even though old Geralt is slicing off heads and cutting foes in half. A lot of times when I play I just run around exploring. “Oh, I’ve never been to that section of the map….let’s run over there.” Over the years the devs have added a LOT of fast travel markers but I just trot past them. Heck I don’t even call Roach. I just love to stroll around killing monsters and bandits.

Final Fantasy XVI is in rotation but I still am not enjoying it that much. I’m not sure why I’m forcing myself to finish it. I guess because I bought it at full price. I keep thinking I should do a post about the things that bother me about it but then I think maybe there’s enough negativity on the Internet. Perhaps someday when I’m feeling cranky.

Watching:

We’ve become big fans of Apple TV+ lately. Three of our shows this month have been on Apple TV+

Invasion season 2 is still airing. We’re liking it though we’re a little sad about how Aneesha’s character is written. She was so fierce in Season 1 and now she mostly yells “LUUUKKKEE” to her kid. And I don’t like her kid at all. But all the other threads keep us tuning in.

Foundation season 2 is over and I think we’ll do a 2nd watch; this is a dense show that rewards re-watching. Or at least season 1 did.  And we’ll watch anything with Jared Harris in it.

The Changling is a horror show that we’re still in the middle of. It has this way of being a little dull for like half the episode and then totally hooking me in the 2nd half, forcing me to come back for more.

From other services, we’ve been watching Star Trek: The Lower Decks which we just love. It’s on Paramount+

We’ve pretty much lost interest in the Disney+ shows, particularly since we’ll be cancelling soon due to the stupidly large price hike. But even before that happened we both just drifted away from Ahsoka and I can’t get too excited about any of the Marvel stuff anymore either. That’s OK… looking forward to having that $$ in my pocket instead of Disney’s.

I’ve also been solo watching some anime: The Faraway Paladin & Ascendency of a Bookworm. Neither was mind blowing but both were enjoyable with a minimum amount of screaming. I bounce off a lot of anime because of the constant screaming. Also worth noting that I know nothing about anime. I’ve been told all the screaming is a hallmark of ‘shonen’ but I dunno how to tell if something is shonen or not before I start watching. I need an anime sensei. 🙂

Reading:

Finished The Last Wish & started Sword of Destiny; a nice pairing with my time roaming around in The Witcher 3. 🙂

And that’s September done. October should be great. The Quest 3 comes out and it just so happens (it was legit a coincidence) that I have a week’s vacation booked starting the Monday after launch. Also looking forward to Honkai Star Rail hitting the Playstation. Plus, y’know, spooky stuff all month! Woohoo!

Going Silent on Starfield For Now

Over the Labor Day weekend here in the States I played a LOT of Starfield, at least for me. I’ve got about 16 hours on my ‘main’ game and 4-5 on my “wander aimlessly” game, plus another couple hours in false starts that I abandoned. This is more gaming hours in a single weekend than I’ve spent in probably years. Suffice to say I am LOVING Starfield.

But soon the floodgates will open, while at the same time I’m going back to work and I’ll be back to maybe being able to sneak in an hour/day and I’m going to fall way behind the crowds in terms of progress. I’ve so far mostly avoided spoilers and I’d like to keep doing that as much as possible.

It has been a long time since I played a high-profile game this early. I don’t sign up for betas, generally don’t purchase Early Access games and tend to wait until a game has aged a bit before playing. So in this way Starfield has been unusual for me in terms of my current gaming habits.

Now back in the day I was ALWAYS there Day 1, sharing tips and opinions and really enjoying the dialogue around a new game.

What Starfield is teaching me is that I don’t really enjoy that dialogue anymore. I have, just a few times, gone in search of some info when I couldn’t figure something out (like the ship-building UI on console kind of breaks my brain) and what I’m seeing when I search for Starfield is a lot of fanboyism from both sides. Starfield is either the biggest piece of shit game ever made, or it is a game that will bring about world peace and cure all disease on earth. There is very little middle ground.

I find no value and no joy in that. I am tempted to correct the egregious mistakes but what a waste of me time, right? No one wants to be corrected on-line. Half the bad info is probably intentional. And don’t get me wrong, Starfield has some super clunky aspects and some really disappointing design decisions. But in spite of those I’m having a blast. Reading about everything that is wrong with the game isn’t going to increase my enjoyment, I don’t think.

So yeah, as of today I’m just going to go quiet and enjoy playing the game over here in my single player ‘gaming is my escapism’ cocoon. I guess I could keep writing about it, but that will take time away from playing — I wish I was playing right now as I watch the clock tick toward bedtime! And it isn’t like I’m going to change anyone’s mind or draw any revelatory conclusions that no one else has. Though I wish people would figure out you can fast travel from one planet to another so they’d stop bitching about “all the cut scenes” you have to sit through to travel. (Of course just as many complain that moving around the galaxy is much too easy and there is too much fast travel.)

If you decide to play I very much hope you get as much enjoyment from it as I have been getting! If I do run anything that really feels like a fun-killer, I will come back and post about it, but otherwise take my silence as a sign that I’m enjoying myself!

What Kind of Game is Starfield? [No Spoilers]

I am really enjoying Starfield, and so am in danger of getting overly apologetic about its flaws (and it certainly does have some) but I just wanted to try to clear up what seems to be some confusion around what it actually is.

BIG CAVEAT that I am still early in the game so maybe some things change eventually.

Anyway most of the negative reviews and comments I’ve seen really boil down to Starfield not being what that person wanted it to be. Things that Starfield is not: No Man’s Sky, Elite Dangerous or Star Citizen. It isn’t a space sim. In fact if you hate space sims you very well might still love Starfield.

Things Starfield is: Skyrim in Space.

Bethesda has given us ways to cut out a lot of space travel. While landed and sitting in your ship you can use the Star Map to pick a planet in another star system and just ‘jump’ (essentially, fast travel) straight to it. Then you can land straight-away. No actual flying involved.  Alternatively, you can take-off from the planet you are on (and yes, going from landed to space is a quick cut-scene, not an organic transition) then fly around above the planet you just came from, then plot a course to another star system, Grav Jump to it, then fly around there before landing. But that’s your choice. You’ll find random encounters and dogfights if you choose to do this. It’s up to you, which is always dangerous because gamers have a habit of optimizing gameplay for efficiency and then complaining about not being forced to do the stuff they opted to skip.

Frankly I WOULD like more space flight choices. There is no equivalent to No Man’s Sky’s “Pulse Drive” that lets you zoom between planets in a solar system, stopping anywhere. Practically speaking you’ll want to “Jump” between planets. In fact if your destination is on the far side of a planet you probably even want to use the Star Map and jump there. Space is really big in Starfield and conventional flight is pretty slow. I’d also love to use the Grav Jump from the cockpit view but so far I can’t (there seem to be options that are only unlocked once you learn a skill, liking using Thrusters to add Newtonian physics to dogfights). [UPDATE: I got this wrong. From in the cockpit if you target a destination you can then manually jump to it from the pilot’s seat, assuming the destination is within range of your Grav drive. You just manually shunt some power to the Grav drive and off you go.]

This is duplicated planet-side. Assuming you have a mission objective on a planet, you can pick it from the map and choose to land there. You’ll generally be pretty close to your destination. Then you go do whatever it is you need to do, which will probably involve a lot of fun pew-pewing. When you’ve completed your objective you can fast travel right back to your ship (as long as you aren’t over-encumbered). But you can also CHOOSE to walk back too. And along the way may you can gather some resources, scan some stuff, fight some alien beasties… and then you can keep walking PAST your ship out into the wilds and find abandoned bases full of loot and enemies. But you don’t have to do any of this. You can basically fast travel to the ship then fast travel to another solar system.

And as in any Bethesda game you can rush through it or you can stop to explore nooks and crannies and read log files and listen to audio files and soak in the lore. But you don’t have to.

Honestly aside from “Skyrim in Space” the best comparison I can think of based on what I’ve seen so far is The Outer Worlds, but of course without the wacky humor. Starfield is a space game the way The Outer Worlds is a space game. If you’re looking for a hardcore space simulator, yeah, you’re probably going to find Starfield lacking. But if you’re looking for a traditional Bethesda RPG that happens to take place in space (and with some neat additional features because this is 2023 and not 2015 — when BGS’s last game, Fallout 4 — released) then you’re probably going to have fun.

I’m actually playing on two different saves now.

Save 1 is Amos (based loosely on the Expanse character) who is an ex-Bouncer and a Neon City Street Rat. He doesn’t mess about much, has few qualms about shooting first and asking questions never, and in gaming terms, he is mainlining the main quests.

Save 2 is Tess, a former chef (!) whose still has parents to visit (this is a Trait and I’m not really sure what it means yet) and who is empathic. She is kind of a completionist and an ardent explorer (ie she can’t be bothered with the main story quest when there may be alien creatures to discover just over the next rise).

What’s neat is both of these play styles have been really fun so far (though I will soon be WAY behind everyone else because I’m splitting my time between the two). I’m in no hurry though as I figure Starfield is going to be on my system for a LONG while. Heck I still have Skyrim installed.

I’m really looking forward to how the game changes over time both via official patches and by mods.

Starfield Tips: Obvious Stuff I Missed at First [No Spoilers]

OK this is going to be SUPER basic stuff but in case anyone is interested; most of this I learned from playing through the first hour or so of Starfield twice. After my first session I re-thought my character’s background and traits so re-rolled and had to do redo the first mission. The 2nd time I went through it at a slower pace and noticed some things.

First is that some loot seems to be randomized. My first time through the first base you visit, I found a cool space suit with a chameleon property whereby if I stood still I’d turn invisible, Predator-style. I didn’t find this during my second trip through. It is POSSIBLE I just missed the safe it was in, but I felt like I was pretty thorough so I think loot is at least partially random. Heck unless it is somehow tied to your backstory/traits?! Oh, things like random books you can find and read seem to be different too.

Second, (some) computers can be accessed. I told you these were obvious things! There’s a lot of log files and backstory on them, and in some cases you can turn on/off devices via them. I skipped them all the first time and missed out on a lot of the creepy-cool things that’ve been going on in that base.

Third, these Slate things are audio logs. More delicious lore for you to enjoy. Another thing I just walked past my first time through:

Fourth, the lock-picking mini-game seems to be randomized, making scum-saving a little less productive. I Quick Saved before picking a lock and kind of blew it, so I reloaded and…the challenge was different. I’m going to assume that after not very long we’ll all be walking around with a few dozen digipicks so this won’t matter so much, but early on they seem a bit precious.

Fifth, there’s a Cargo Bay on your ship and a little locker behind the pilot’s seat and you can stash junk in both of those if, like me, you can’t resist picking up every little thing and soon find yourself encumbered! You can also stash stuff in crates and weapon racks. I don’t think you have any of these on your starter ship but soon enough you’ll no doubt have a bigger, better ship with these hidey-holes to stash gear in. Also remember you can’t fast travel to your ship once encumbered so be sure to dump off your stuff before you hit that point.

So those are just a couple of the things that tripped me up in what was basically the first hour or two of play. If I have any of it wrong, please leave a comment. Likewise if you have any tips leave those too, but only if they’re not spoilers!

[9/2/23 UPDATE:]

1) My pal Dusty Monk pointed out that your companions can be used to carry some of your loot when you get over-encumbered. If I remember right that’s been the case in earlier Bethesda games but I somehow forgot all about it. You talk to them and use Trade Gear I believe (I haven’t actually done this myself yet).

2) You can review the many tutorials the game throws at you early on but opening the system menu and accessing Help.

[9/3/23 UPDATE:]

1)  “Ship Parts” are a consumable item used to repair damage to your ship’s hull. In your early days of Starfield you probably won’t need them (ship combat is pretty easy early on) but if you’re as rabid a looter as I am, you’ll probably pick some up. Thing is, they’re pretty heavy AND they sort into the “AID” category of your inventory, along with med kits, eggs and beer. When you get encumbered you probably won’t think to check the AID category for heavy items since most of it weighs very little, but those ship parts may have accumulated in there and may be weighing you down.

2) Worth noting that if you select “ALL” in your inventory, you can then sort by weight with the heaviest stuff being at the top of the list. And tangentially related, you can sort weapons by ammo type they require. Starfield has at least a dozen ammo types (that’s all I’ve found so far) so this can be really handy when you’re putting together a load-out and don’t want to be carrying several guns that all draw from the same ammo pool.

3) When selling loot keep an eye on the vendor’s credit balance. If they run out of money the game will keep letting you sell stuff to them, and to be fair you will get a warning that you won’t get full value of the item. But what they mean by “not full value” is 0. The vendor keeps taking your stuff and giving you nothing. Just don’t be like me and assume, y’know, this item is worth 500 but the cheap vendor is only going to give you 400 because your Commerce skill isn’t high enough, or something. It’s a mistake you’ll only make once but… now you can just never make it! 🙂

[9/5/23 UPDATE:]

One last tip. This applies at least to the Xbox version and it is related to a minor bug. You can own more than one ship in Starfield and your ‘active’ ship is chosen by marking it as your “Home” ship. In at least one case my “Home” ship was not on the launch pad where it was supposed to be and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to ‘summon’ it. Turns out this was a bug and your “Home” ship SHOULD be on the launch pad. The fix was to pick another ship as your “Home” ship, then switch it back to the ship that you really want to use. Toggling back and forth like that sorted things for me. Not sure if this bug happens on PC.

And speaking of Xbox vs PC, the game is cross-save, at least the Game Pass version (I can’t test the Steam version). I’m pretty sure when it comes time for me to seriously build/modify a ship I’ll do that on PC as I find the console ship building interface a bit cumbersome.

Oh and if you’re a crazy person like me and are playing through the game more than once at the same time, on the Load Save screen, you can filter by character name. The UI prompt for this is down at the bottom of the screen. The game creates a lot of auto saves, and an exit save, plus whatever manual saves you make, so filtering by character name is SUPER helpful.

August 2023

OMG you beautiful people, the hellscape which is August is OVER! Against all odds I have once again survived the heat of the North Carolina summer. Heck this year felt easy compared to other parts of the country. I think we maxed out at heat indexes around 105F or so which would’ve felt danged comfortable to the folks in Lawrence, KS who at one point ‘enjoyed’ a heat index of 133F. I can not even image what that feels like.

Forgive me, I’m old. Talking about the weather is about all I do these days. And when I say “talking” I really mean “bitching.”

Anyway, on to the recap, only 1 day early this month. I’m ditching the ‘last month/this month’ format. I’m generally pretty happy with this new ‘system’ of picking a handful of titles and sticking with them. My only real regret from this month is I’ve done so little VR gaming. A lot of that is just down to heat and humidity. I know it doesn’t make sense since I do my VR inside the air conditioned apartment but I still always somehow feel hot and strapping on the headset just doesn’t feel appealing. I’m also doing my VR workouts 4 times a week which, I fear, is conditioning my brain to try to avoid the thing because “visor = hard work and sweating.” I talked about this more in my VR workout post from the other day.

This month I’ve focused on five games:

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: I finally finished the Dawn of Ragnarök expansion which I quite enjoyed. In it you play as Havi/Odin rather than as Eivor and I kind of preferred him to Eivor. It was also pretty easy since I was over-powered for it. It meant I could just walk into a camp and take on all comers in a glorious whirlwind of arrows and axes. Once Dawn was completed I finished the final “farewell” quest wherein Eivor leaves her clan to go in search of new adventures. Which is a spoiler but not really since at the start of the game we’d found her grave in North America so we knew she’d eventually head that way.

The only major aspect of the game I haven’t completed is a rogue-like mode where you once again play Havi who is trying to rescue Baldr from Niflheim. I’m not generally a fan of rogue-likes though in this one you do get to carry forward some progression from run-to-run, which helps. But between being past the 200 hour mark on my save and the fact that the game (with all the DLCs) is a chonky 150 GBs (and my drive is rather full) I decided to bail on poor Baldr and move on. And while I still preferred AC: Odyssey to Valhalla, that 200+ hours doesn’t lie: I really enjoyed this game. And damn is it ever pretty.

If I really wanted to, I could stick around and chase achievements as there are still MANY things to do in the open world. Here’s a map that shows just a part of the base game and you can see all the white, yellow and blue dots that indicate treasures and artifacts that I never got around to collecting:

So many tasks left unfinished. If you tried to 100% this game I can see where it might make you a wee bit crazy.

After spending so much time with Eivor it was actually hard to click “uninstall.” I mean I could always reinstall it but it felt like saying goodbye to a friend. Yes, I’m weird.

Persona 4 Golden: Initially I started playing the console version of Persona 3, but then a remake/remaster was announced so I decided to wait for that, and switched to Persona 4 Golden. I just really wanted to finally make a serious attempt at a Persona game and it felt like something that I could play comfortably via Remote Play on the Steam Deck. It is early days yet… I’m under 10 hours and this is a long game. So far I’m liking it. I love the aesthetics and the music. There’re a lot of gameplay systems I’m still sussing out. So quietly optimistic about this one so far.

Redfall: When this came out it was so universally hated that I kind of had to play it (since it was on Game Pass). My inner contrarian was sure that the game must be better than folks said it was. I did wait until after their first big patch which I’m told increased the encounter rate, among other things. Given that the world can still feel kind of empty I can’t imagine how it felt BEFORE they tweaked that.

So I started playing and y’know, I was liking it OK. My plan was to just finish the main story and MAYBE to take one character to level cap. I was feeling pretty smug, given how clearly it seemed that my refined videogame palate that was letting me find the good bits that others missed. Then I kept playing and found myself liking it less and less, and the smugness faded pretty quick. I still don’t think it is awful but neither do I think it is good enough to keep playing, and I only got to level 10 (the cap is 40). I also didn’t spend $60 in it which probably softens my reaction to some extent.

The story is making so little an impression that I can’t even tell you what the plot is, but what finally got me to decide to pack it in is just how every fight kind of feels the same. I haven’t seen a new weapon in a while, just higher level models of the same handful I’ve had since early days. A lot of the character skills relate to multiplayer so it might be that playing in a group makes it all more fun but as a single player game, there’s just not much to hold me. I’m glad I tried it and if I didn’t have any other games to play I might keep playing but I have a lot of good and great games I want to get to. I can’t spare more time on what is, at best, an OK game.

The vampire plague seems to have been caused by technology rather than magic and here I think we’re supposed to be learning how but it is all so disjointed that I can’t follow it.

Final Fantasy XVI: To be blunt, I don’t understand the universal praise FF XVI is getting. I am not enjoying it all that much, which is odd because I played the demo and LOVED that to the point where I pre-ordered the whole game at full price, which is something I rarely do these days. What I’m finding is the full game is basically the demo recycled over and over. Fight some trash mobs then a mini-boss followed immediately by a Boss boss which will have several phases. There is very little exploration and the combat system, to me, doesn’t feel great. It is definitely a pretty game and the story is fine. I think I’d like it as a movie more than I do as a game. Side note: At one point I had to skip some cutscenes (the game has a habit of stringing together cutscenes without giving you a chance to save) which led me to seeing if I could find a YouTube video so I could watch what I missed. I found a video with all the cutscenes from the game and it is, get this, 20 hours long! That’s a lot of cutscenes.

One of my big gripes about the combat system is how hard it is to ‘read’ the fight since everything always looks like this. What is the enemy doing right now? I have no clue.

I could, and might, do a blog post about all the things that bug me about FFXVI [spoiler: a lot of it has to do with pacing] but for now I’ll just mark it as being something of a disappointment. I’m about half-way through it and decided to just flip the difficulty to “Story Mode” just so I can finish it as quickly as possible.

The Witcher 3: When we finally got around to watching The Witcher S3 on Netflix it got me in the mood to play the game again. I’m proud to say I did NOT start over but picked up where I last left off. I still am not as far as I’ve been in earlier (eventually abandoned) saves but I’m slowly making progress. There’re so many side quests and I KNOW I should ignore them and just follow the story line but…shiny lovely side quests! How can you resist them? Suffice to say I’m enjoying myself though I still don’t really understand “builds” in The Witcher 3. You have so many skill points but so few “slots” for skills. Fortunately not knowing how to build a powerful Geralt hasn’t really held me back. I guess thanks to being over-leveled due to those delicious side quests. 🙂

Watching:

The Witcher S3 which we enjoyed aside from the cliffhanger ending and knowing, what with strike and all, that it’ll probably be 2025 before we learn what happens next.

Secret Invasion was OK, but for me just OK. I found myself glad it was only 6 episodes. And yet they still managed to kill off a (somewhat minor) character that I liked.

Halt and Catch Fire is an old show on AMC+ that is about the start of the PC revolution. It ran for 4 seasons but by the middle of season 2 my interest was starting to wane.

Ahsoka is another one that, so far, I just find is “OK” though I think PartPurple likes it more than me. It’s early days so maybe it’ll ramp up but so far it kind of feels formulaic to me. And adult Ahsoka is so completely different from the young Ahsoka from the animated shows.

I guess we’re watching a lot of TV these days because I still haven’t listed Foundation or Invasion. Both of which we’re enjoying but in neither case do I feel like imploring you to watch. And with the writer’s strike still going on I’m leery about getting too invested in any show because it is really up in the air as to if or when anything is going to get a next season.

Reading:

I finally finished Leviathon’s Fall and the Expanse series and I’m really glad I stuck with it. As a series it was definitely 5/5 stars even though a couple of the books as stand alones dropped to a 4. I kind of feel like The Expanse has ruined all other space-based sci fi for me now.

And that’s the recap. Next up, September and Starfield. I wasn’t honestly paying much attention to all the Starfield hype until just recently, and now I’m kind of excited for it. I’ll be able to start playing on Thursday evening since I sprang for the enhanced edition upgrade (which was around $35 if you’re a Game Pass subscriber).

 

VR Workouts, Month 4: Hitting the Wall

This was the first month I really struggled with my VR workouts, and in fact the first time I failed. But during this month I went from looking forward to putting on the Quest to dreading it. For most of the month I pushed myself to keep showing up 4 days a week but it was getting harder and harder. Now part of the reason is the weather. It has been so hot and humid that it just drains you. But that was just a small part of the issue.

Last Wednesday I was dreading the workout but I did it, sortof. I went through the motions but hardly got my heartrate up and barely broke a sweat. I just could not will my body to move fast enough. Several hours later I learned why when I started shaking and shivering and running a fever; I was getting sick. In fact I was sick enough that I took Thursday off which, I believe, is the first time I’ve taken a sick day since our company was bought 3 or 4 years ago. I know this because I had to ask what the procedure was for logging a sick day. My company has a procedure for everything!

Friday I was back at work but, frankly, phoning it in and just trying to get through the day. When it was time to workout I just couldn’t do it, so I skipped. (Thursday was a rest day anyway so no worries there.) I felt pretty guilty about it, but it also felt justified. Instead of working out I went to sleep.

Saturday is another rest day but today, Sunday, was not. I generally do my Sunday workout first thing in the morning to get it out of the way (which itself should’ve been a sign to me…I used to look forward to my workouts) but I didn’t. I was trying to convince myself that I was still recovering and needed more rest, but it wasn’t true. I’m like 90% well at this point.

So let’s leave me sitting there early Sunday afternoon arguing with myself, trying to convince myself to get off the couch, and back up a bit.

The other odd thing that happened this month is that I stopped playing VR games. I finished Walking Dead Saints & Sinners very late in July or very early in August and that was the last VR game I played. Once again part of the reason for this is the weather, but there was more to it than that. I had to sit and ponder what was going on.

And what was going on is I’d basically broken VR fun for myself. I went from playing games for exercise to using a dedicated exercise app (Supernatural) which I was still treating like a game. What I mean by that is I was striving to “beat it” in some way. I went from spending about 20 minutes/working in Supernatural doing Low intensity workouts to close to 40 minutes doing a mix of Low and Medium intensity. Why? Because if it was a game I’d need to get ‘better’ and get a better score and DEFINITELY get off “Easy” difficulty.

But in pushing myself I was making myself miserable. After a workout I would be so wrung out and spent. My body was definitely getting stronger and I was losing weight, which was good. But I totally lost the mental benefits. Early on I’d feel GREAT mentally a couple hours after a workout. Almost like I was high, but in a good way. That was gone. It was just being miserable and getting past being miserable and my brain started equated VR with being uncomfortable. On workout days I was MUCH too tired to play a game for fun and on rest days I didn’t want to get within 10 feet of a VR headset. And that made me really sad because I had been having SO MUCH FUN in VR.

OK back to earlier today. I was sitting there pondering all this and I don’t know if I came up with a solution but I at least came up with a plan to try. First, I cut my weekly Supernatural goals from 4 workouts/week to 3. The idea of that is just to give me some wiggle room without the guilt that comes with not making my goal.

Today I eventually put on the Quest 2 and instead of jumping into Supernatural I played some Beat Saber. That didn’t feel great because Supernatural’s “Flow” workouts are basically like Beat Saber. So I jumped over to Audio Trip which I haven’t played in months and guess what? I’ve actually gotten better at it, I guess because my body is in better physical shape. That was pretty fun, and it was also when I noted that I was starting to sweat. Then I booted up Pistol Whip and finished one of the campaigns including fighting a boss that had me ducking and twisting and dodging like mad, grinning the whole time.  During this time Meta Move popped up to say I’d met my goal for time spent moving, though I still had calories to burn.

But only THEN did I fire up Supernatural. My heart beat was already in the low 100s before I started (my resting heart rate is normally around 80). I did a couple of 8-ish minute Low difficulty sessions which got the heart rate up into goal zone and helped me hit my calories burned goal in Meta Move. I also feel like I did better with these sessions in terms of better form and better control. And it all felt good. I even danced a little. Thank goodness no one was watching.

Here I am, a couple hours later and I had some fun in VR, did my workout and hit my Meta Move goals, and I don’t feel like an old dish rag.  And mentally I’m “up” enough to write a blog post.

So my plan is to dial back the Supernatural stuff and mix in some active games.  Stop treating Supernatural as a game and honor the fact that I’m in my 60s and I might NEVER get to where I can do 40 minutes of Medium difficulty sessions and that’s OK.

My whole goal with starting these workouts was just to move. Both my mother and my grandmother (none of the men in my family tree lived long enough to hit this point) deteriorated a LOT when they got older because they stopped doing anything. They’d sit at home and watch TV, which frankly is what I do for a living. Yes it’s a computer screen and not a day time soap opera but in terms of activity it’s about the same. Both of them went downhill fast when their lifestyles changed like this. I don’t want to be like them. I want to stay active and be able to get around and be alert. So that’s why I started the workouts. Losing weight is a nice side effect and I wasn’t really aware of how good a proper amount of exercise would be for my mental state. That was a delightful discovery.

Bottom line, I’m not going for ripped abs. I’m going for mobility and mental health and I don’t need to keep pushing myself into longer, harder workouts to achieve those goals.

So, we’ll see how it goes.

Gamescom ONL: I’m Getting Too Old For This Sh*t

It wasn’t all that long ago that I would schedule a week’s vacation when E3 was going on. I’d watch all the press conferences and then hours and hours of coverage from various gaming sites or Twitch or whatever.  I couldn’t wait to learn about all the upcoming games!

I’m not sure if it is me that has changed, gaming that has changed, or most likely, a bit of both. Tonight was Gamescom Opening Night Live, a 2 hour long stream with a 30 minute pre-show. I didn’t watch it live since I was working and when I did watch it, it took me about an hour to get through it. I basically watched it with the remote in my hand and my thumb over the fast-forward button. (Yes I watch all my YouTube content on a big-screen TV…another example of how old and out of touch I am!)

It kind of makes me sad, though I’m not sure why. I think because I feel like age plays into it, and maybe to some extent it does? But there are so many popular genres that I am COMPLETELY disinterested in these days. Without really stopping to think hard about it, here’s a list:

Fighting Games
Souls-Like Games (both due to the difficulty and to their propensity for being very grotesque)
Military Shooter Games
Platformers
Multiplayer Games, particularly PvP MP games.
Horror Games

What does that even leave? Action adventures, RPGs and indie games, I guess?

So yeah, there wasn’t a lot in the show that got me all that excited, or alternatively there were games like Starfield that I know I’ll play and really don’t need to watch more previews of because it’d be nice if there was some aspect of it not spoiled by the time I can actually play.

I also, frankly, don’t buy many games these days. I have the backlog of games I really want to play (as mentioned in my last post) and “free” games on Xbox Game Pass and Playstation Plus.  More titles than I have time to play, honestly. I don’t really need to get hyped for whatever is coming out in the next six months. I’ll play those games after they launched and enjoyed a few rounds of patches and some price cuts.

I guess the only reason I’m even blogging about this is because it all kind of came as a surprise. I was looking forward to ONL, but by the time I got through the pre-show with Kyle Bosman (what does that dude even do the 363 days of the year when he isn’t doing a deliberately awkward pre-show for Keighley?) I was already getting antsy and ready to move on to doing something else.

Oh well, flying through it like I did freed up time to write this post and for playing games, which is what I’m gonna go do now. I just found the “rogue-lite” mode in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla!

I hope most folks who tuned in enjoyed the show, though! Every party has its pooper though, and generally that is me!

 

 

Taking a Break From Endless Games

Last month was pretty crummy for me, gamewise, but after writing my recap I decided to try to make an effort to find time for gaming. I picked a handful of games and put ’em in my ‘rotation’. I’m doing that possibly neurotic thing where, when I can’t decide what to play, I use a random number generator to pick one of these games.

And it has been working pretty well. Many nights I can only squeeze in an hour or so but still I have one spot in my day that is just for me and just for fun, and jumping between games means stuff keeps feeling fresh, but there’s generally not enough days between sessions with a particular game that I forget how to play or what I was doing. With the random pick thing I don’t spend my limited time fretting about what to play, which is sometimes an issue for me. My plan was working well!

Then a couple of things happened. First was that Final Fantasy XIV had a free login period for people with lapsed accounts. I patched it up, jumped in and started re-learning how to play. I was having fun and started kicking around the idea of re-subscribing. Then I thought of the games I’ve been playing and wondered how I’d fit FFXIV in with them. I could throw it into the rotation as well but did I want to pay $15/month to play maybe once a week for an hour or two? Probably not, so I back-burnered FFXIV.

Then shortly after that, Genshin Impact (a game I’ve pumped over 300 hours into) rolled out the big update 4.0 and I was really tempted to go back to that, too. I wouldn’t have to pay anything so I could stick it into the rotation and not feel bad about the days I wasn’t playing it.

The more I thought about it, though, the less excited I was about it. I already have 5 games I’m jumping between, which is probably 1 or 2 too many. But the idea is I’ll finish a couple and not add more in and so start to increase my pacing through the remainder. But Genshin would never end. Well no time in the foreseeable future anyway. I suppose eventually it will shut down.

I have SO MANY games in my backlog. And I mean so many installed games waiting to be played. My Xbox has 4 TB of storage and it’s full, and the PS5 has 3 TB and it is getting on towards full. That’s not to mention all the games in my libraries that aren’t installed, all the games on Game Pass and Playstation Pass, and then stuff on Steam. SO MANY GAMES and most of them are games I want to play (Update: This is definitely not a case of feeling obligated to clear out the old backlog…based on a few of the comments below I don’t think I initially made that clear enough). I don’t buy a lot of bundles where you end up with games that just came along with the game you bought the bundle for. Y’know those games that you’re not really interested in but they’re in your library just the same. So (setting aside the Game Pass and PS+ titles) the games I have are mostly games I really want to play.

Realistically I’ll never get to them all. I’m old enough where if I dropped dead tomorrow folks would say “Oh, that’s too bad.” and not “OMG what a tragedy, he was so young!” I dunno how much gaming time I have left.

But I’d like to start putting some effort into playing these games I want to play, and the only plausible way to do that is to stop playing these ‘live service’ games that by design don’t end. Or if I do play them, play them with a finishable goal in mind (eg “Get a character to level cap” or “Finish the main story.”). For example one of the games in my rotation is Redfall which is intended to be some kind of live service/endless game, I think. But my plan is to take 1 character through the main story and then consider it Game Over.

I realize I’m swimming against the current here and publishers think “live service” endless games are the way to go, but again my backlog is huge enough I don’t need any new games. I’ll cherry pick the best of the best, like everyone is loving Baldur’s Gate 3 right now. Maybe Starfield will be worth adding into the mix. But I’m not buying many new games these days.

I am just really anticipating the day I start seeing end credits roll and feeling that sense of accomplishment for getting through to the end.

 

 

VR Workouts, Month 3

Still working out in my Quest 2 at least 4 times a week. I figure if I can make it through July and August the rest of the year will be cake. It is HARD to walk the dog in the heat and humidity, get home dripping sweat and then strap on the old Quest. Ideally I would shuffle my routine and workout in the morning but I am kind of a night owl and @PartPurple is a HUGE night owl. Going to bed earlier in order to get up earlier would be a struggle since I’d have to convince her to get onboard (if I go to bed before she does, I always wake up when she comes to bed then can’t get back to sleep).

Anyway that was probably TMI.

But for now everything is going to plan. I took another big step this month in that I started using Supernatural VR, a subscription-based fitness app. Last month I’d graduated from active games to an actual fitness app, so why the change? Les Mills Bodycombat (the app I had been using) is a solid app but it felt like a bit too much for me. Every workout left me completely wrung-out to the point where I’d basically be done for the rest of the day. It felt good but I knew I wouldn’t sustain it; it was just too intense for my astoundingly out of shape body.

Supernatural has a lot more options. It has 4 main activities: Flow (which is similar to Beat Saber only with routines designed for exercise), Boxing (similar to Les Mills), Stretching and Meditation. I haven’t done too much with the last two. Supernatural has about half a dozen ‘coaches’ that lead you through the routines, so you can pick a personality or two that resonate with you. It also has a much broader range of workouts and you can filter by duration, intensity, style of music, etc. And there’s a lot more variety in the music that they offer. There’s a ton of ‘environments’ that the workouts take place in. Like, I dunno, The Great Wall of China, Petra, or the Scottish Highlands. This is all just eye/ear candy but it keeps things fresh. There’re also a ton of accessibility options so you can tailor the experience to your abilities and fitness level.

The BIG downside of Supernatural is the cost. It’s $20/month, or if you buy a year in advance that brings it down to about $15/month. That felt too rich for my blood until someone in the Facebook group (yes, I actually joined the Facebook group) mentioned getting health insurance to pay for it. I checked my policy and they do reimburse for gym memberships and specifically mention online fitness courses. So I HOPE they wil reimburse me for Supernatural (I signed up for a year) but I can’t submit until I’ve demonstrated that I’ve actually used it for (I think) 35 workouts. So it was a bit of a gamble.

And honestly now I’m kind of hooked even if I don’t get reimbursed.  Mostly it is the variety that keeps me engaged. They release new routines every day (I think?) so it always feels like there’s something new to do.

I also bought a cheap heart monitor that syncs with Supernatural so I can see how hard I’m working. My Fitbit measures my heart rate, but it doesn’t sync with SN and of course I can’t read it while wearing the Quest. The monitor, which is in the form of an armband, was only about $30 so seemed worth the investment.

Anyway enough of sounding like a Supernatural infomercial.

So back to how I’m doing. I’m generally doing well. I’ve had a few times where I was in pain, generally my lower lats will get so tight that it hurts to move. I have learned to stretch frequently which is helping and I also think just getting stronger is helping. I also had a scare with my Achilles tendon but going easy on squats and side-lunges for a few days was enough to let that heal.

I’ve lost a little over 14 lbs without really changing my diet much. Or if I have changed it, it is not in a way that feels like any kind of a sacrifice. I don’t feel like I am “on a diet.” I still have a long way to go but it feels like I’m making progress and I still do not dread doing the workouts. In fact yesterday was a “rest day” and now I’m actually looking forward to my workout later today.

And not to sound like a broken record, but overall I feel better. Mentally I feel better. I feel stronger. I’m not huffing and puffing going up and down stairs. I feel more alert, more present. Just a ton of positive changes. So yeah, I’m gonna keep doing this for a while.

 

July 2023

Summer in the south is never a good time, and this July wasn’t any exception. Going to be a pretty short recap this month because I haven’t done much! Well, except for work. Lots of overtime in the second half of this month.

My days have been going something like this: Get up and start working. I’ve been working from 7:30 – 8:00 am through to 5 pm, with an hour break for lunch when I can get it. Then I walk the dog in the sweltering heat. Get back in and do my VR workout (always a struggle given I’m over-heated before I begin), then shower. By the time that is all done its dinner time, which these days has crept later and later until now we eat around 8 PM. Generally watch some TV, usually an episode of Jeopardy and an episode of whatever show we’re into. So that takes us to 9:30 or so. Then often another couple hours of work and… as you can see not much time for gaming except on the weekends.

Last Month’s Games:

I finally finished Ghostwire: Tokyo early in the month. I wound up enjoying it but it was a game that I dropped and came back to frequently. It didn’t really stand up to that obsessive “spend every free moment playing” pace. Mostly it was my weekend mornings game. I might have kept playing past main story end except I’d already hit level cap and that took away a lot of the incentive of exploring and rescuing souls. I still got something like 30 or 40 hours of fun out of it though. If there’s ever a sequel I’ll be there for it.

I’m still playing, or trying to play, Walking Dead: Saints & Sinnners. The PSVR2 has mostly been sitting idle, though very much NOT by choice. This isn’t about getting tired of VR; it’s about struggling to find spots where I have the free time & the free energy & the free living room to devote to it. (Unfortunately with the setup I have, I pretty much have to take over the living room to do PSVR so I have to wait until @partpurple is off doing something on her computer.) Lately those 3 things just haven’t been coming together.

[EDIT: This is what I get for posting my recap early. After talking about S&S in this post I REALLY had the urge to play so I did and… finished. I had no idea I was so close to the end. Great game though! Now on to the DLC!]

I’m also still noodling around in Final Fantasy XVI but struggling to get into it. I loved the demo and immediately pre-ordered as soon as the demo ended, but the full game hasn’t grabbed me. I think that is more on me than the game; I don’t think it shines when you’re playing for 30 minutes every 2 or 3 days. I might just set it aside until life settles down some.

New This Month

Early in the month I jumped back into an old Oculus Rift game, Shadow Legends VR. I played through it using the Quest 2 and Oculus Air Link. Even finished it and wrote a post.

TV

All the usual subjects are in rotation: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (still excellent), Foundation S2, The Witcher (@partpurple needed a refresher course so we went back to rewatch the first two seasons.) Our lunch time guilty pleasure is a re-watch of Stargate SG-1. We sneak in an episode at lunchtime when my schedule permits. If we watch the whole thing that’ll keep us busy until well after Christmas! My end of the day wind-down show was Walking Dead: The World Beyond, and I would not recommend it. I more or less watched it to mock it.

Reading:

I finished Tiamat’s Wrath and started Leviathan Falls, the final Expanse book. I’ve been reading this series for so long I’m not sure what I’ll do with myself when I’m finished!

And that’s been July. I have a 4-day weekend coming up; I just knew by about now I’d be in desperate need of a mental health break and boy was I right. One of the work projects that has been causing all the overtime is due this week (and should be delivered on time) so after that things should chill out a bit. Maybe next month I’ll have something worth talking about!