Gears 5 Campaign is not ready for prime time

Update 9/11/19: I played for a few hours last night and these issues SEEM to have been rectified. Nothing wonky happened and I was back to having fun. So fingers-crossed, this post is no longer relevant. Original post follows:

I was pretty excited to jump into Gears 5 Thursday evening, and initially I was not disappointed. Friday night I had fun as well, though at one point I had to exit the game when it froze. Saturday, as I moved deeper into Act 2, I start encountering more and more issues. I’m sad to say, I’m putting the game back on the shelf for now.

I’m bummed because I’m loving the game…when it works. But there is something wonky with the saving/loading system and four times now I’ve had to replay chunks of the game because of issues. In some cases the auto-save will just keep running and running and never finish. In some cases I get an error saying “Unable to save game” after which I have to go back to the last checkpoint. And in still others I’ll enter an area and “triggers” (ie doors I need to open, switches I need to throw) will be inoperable and I’ll have to reload a checkpoint.

Even this wouldn’t be so bad except the checkpoints are spread out and reloading can mean re-playing a few battles, including some tough ones. It can also mean going through an area carefully searching for collectibles and “components” that you use to upgrade your robot pal…a second time. Or put another way, your last checkpoint could be 10-20 minutes ago depending on how hard the fights have been. (There seem to be “I just died” checkpoints and “return to the game” checkpoints. The former are fairly frequent but it’s the latter that you have to pick after a glitch happens and they’re farther apart.)

What I’ve learned is that if your character and his/her companion stop talking about what they’re doing, you’re probably glitched and sooner or later you’re going to have to reload an earlier checkpoint.

Hopefully The Coalition can fix this all soon and if they do I would give Gears 5 a hearty recommendation.

What really puzzles me is that the game has gotten rave reviews from the “pros” (I know we hate Metacritic but the score there is 85 currently) and none of them mentioned these glitches, but lest you think I am alone in experiencing them, I’ll direct you to this thread in the forums.

Just another example of how you can’t trust professional reviewers these days.

UPDATE: The Coalition posted an update/acknowledgement of the issue:

An Embarrassment of Riches

Image by Steve Bidmead from Pixabay

I stole my title from @scopique‘s tweet promoting his latest blog post. He sees having too many games on the market as a potential problem, and I kind of agree with him. Games start to feel so disposable when there are so many of them around.

But you know me, I’m Mr Positive! (Ha, I couldn’t get that out with a straight face.) Most years I have a mental checklist of all the games I’m going to be playing in the Fall, but I never got around to doing that this year.

And now I’m suddenly swamped. There are SO MANY games I want to play. Gears 5 launched for some (including me) last night and so far I am LOVING it. The Ghost Recon Breakpoint beta also started yesterday and I loved that. I’ll be there at launch (Oct 4th) to play that one. Tuesday Greedfall comes out and I am cautiously optimistic about that. Destiny 2’s new expansion drops Oct 1 and again, I am cautiously optimistic about that.

Then there’s the Monster Hunter World expansion, the Legend of Zelda remake, Borderlands 3 (which normally isn’t my cuppa but I think if all my friends are playing I won’t be able to resist), The Outer Worlds, the probably too-weird-for-me-to-skip Death Stranding and the new Star Wars game.

Most of these are in September and October, a few are in November. But these are just the ‘off the top of my head’ titles; I’m sure there are more I’m not thinking of.

And let’s not forget the games I’m already playing like No Man’s Sky, Days Gone, Dragon Quest Builders 2 and I’ve recently jumped back into Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

I’m going to have to figure out how to clone myself so one “me” can go to work and the other “me” can hang out and play games all day. And even if I could accomplish that, there STILL probably wouldn’t be enough hours in the day to play all of these!

Back to Scopique’s post though: this IS kind of a problem, at least if you’re trying to sell games. If I can’t find the time (and money!) to play all the games I’m really excited about, what are the chances I’ll pick up some random lesser-known title because it seems interesting? I’m going to say, close to zero.

Exacerbating this problem is that so many of these games don’t end. A year after launch AC Odyssey is still getting new content. The Gears 5 team is promising on-going updates and content drops. I’m sure GR Breakpoint will be the same: Ubisoft has doubled-down on games as a service in what I see as a good way. Where will I find the time!?

Oh hell and I just realized I haven’t even thought about the VR games!

Edge of Nowhere: A VR experiment that doesn’t really work

Last night I spent an hour or so playing Edge of Nowhere, a VR title from Insomniac that came out a few years ago. The premise of the game is a kind of Saturday matinee adventure tale. It is 1932 and your gal (“gal” since it is 1932, y’see) has gone missing in a remote location, along with the rest of the expedition she was with. You’re on your way to rescue her when the plane you’re in crashes (of course); undaunted you start following the trail left by the expedition.

The premise of the meta-game is, what happens when you try to do a 3rd person action game in VR. The whole game kind of feels like an experiment; one that, for me at least, ultimately failed.

The biggest problem is the way third person is handled. The camera tags along behind the character, maybe 2 meters back. You can’t manually move the camera but of course you can look around. I was playing in a swivel chair which seemed ideal. It all works OK as long as you are moving forward, but if you ever want to backtrack, big issues crop up.

So imagine you are the camera and you’re looking at a character 2 meters in front of you but facing away. That’s the default situation. Now the character turns around. You can see his face. He starts walking forward. You, the camera, start floating backwards to maintain a fixed distance. But you can’t see where the character is going, so you turn around. Now you can see where the character is going, but you can no longer see the character. Big problem. If you could move the camera even a quarter circle around the character it would’ve helped a lot.

If that was sorted it would help, but really there doesn’t seem to be much reason for this to be a VR game. You can play it with Rift controllers but it is designed to be played with a gamepad. The only motion controls are your character’s head, which strangely turns as you turn your head. So turning your head means both you look to the side and so does the character, which really only matters when you’re in a dark place using a headlamp. Then you have to swivel your head around to shine the light everywhere.

There is a LOT of climbing using pick-axes (the environment, at least at the start, is all ice and snow). I think the intent was to have these segments be harrowing but the 3rd person perspective reduces that. I’ve played plenty of VR games where looking over a cliff almost produces vertigo, but those were all 1st person. Here you can gaze down into an abyss and not feel anything more than you’d feel in a flatscreen game. It doesn’t help that at times the camera floats out over a cliff edge, reinforcing the fact that you can’t fall. In fact, if the character does fall, you just watch him. The camera doesn’t follow him down or anything.

Anyway I could go on and on. If this wasn’t a VR game, it would be a pretty shallow experience. LOTS of climbing sequences. then some sneaking past/fighting creatures. A tiny bit of exploration but mostly you just follow a path. There’ve been plenty of simple games that are made special by the addition of VR (eg Job Simulator) but here the VR doesn’t add very much.

Edge of Nowhere came out in 2016 and VR is advancing so quickly that what was probably new and innovative then just seems “OK” today. I bought it on sale for $10 and I’m not sure I’ll bother playing more than that initial hour. Word on the Internet says it is only about 4 hours long so I’m guessing I’ve seen about a quarter of it.

Update: I got stubborn and finished playing it. I had some issue with rock throwing and the controller near the end (rock throwing is a big part of the game…you use it to distract monsters so you can sneak past them) so had to finish using the Oculus controllers. So that’s another strike against the game.

In the end, nothing changed my “meh” opinion. I’m really glad I only spent $10 on it. Finished, deleted, moving on.

WoW Classic: Why I won’t go home again

I blame Heart1lly for this post!

In my Twitter timeline it is full-on WoW Classic Mania this week. While it’s fun to see everyone taking delight in retro-gaming, I haven’t joined in.

Part of the reason is that while I played and enjoyed WoW, it wasn’t, y’know, life-changing for me from a gameplay point of view. MMOs that were life-changing for me personally: MegaWars III (my 1st MMO) and Ultima Online (the one MMO that I played to a point where it started having a negative impact on my real life). WoW was just another in a LONG line of MMOs that I played and enjoyed.

It did happen to land in a weird time in my life. I had gotten laid off and decided to chill for a few months; do some freelancing and live off savings for a bit. Because of that I could devote massive amounts of time to WoW. I joined a guild, became friends with a lot of those people and often spent upwards of 8 hours a day online with them. I knew them, knew their partners and kids, new about their real lives. We were very much a family.

But once I started working again I couldn’t maintain that lifestyle and I drifted away. By the time The Burning Crusade came out, I was ready to move on from WoW. I’ve re-subbed a few times since but without my “family” it just felt kind of empty. Which is strange since I mostly solo in MMOs and am not much of a guild joiner. But in my head, WoW = these friends I’ve lost touch with.

My favorite WoW memories have little to do with gameplay. One thing I love about WoW is how time mirrors real life and, back then, people sought out servers in their time zone. It would be 3 am, the world would be pretty quiet as most players would’ve gone to bed. A friend and I would head out to Westfall and sit near the lighthouse and watch the light play across the sea and talk about life and troubles and whatever and just enjoy the night.

Other fond memories involve silly roleplay in Stormwind, or the time friends stuck with me for 6 hours helping me get a rare pet for my hunter.

Going back to WoW, visiting those zones… it would just be sad for me. Those friends are gone and even if I could find them, it’d be like that awkwardness you feel at a school reunion. People change over time.

I’d rather keep these fond memories as they are. I don’t remember any of the pain points that there must have been. I just have wonderful memories of a good time in my life, and going back could only taint them. So no WoW Classic for me.

But I hope everyone else has a blast!

VR: Pulling the trigger

In my last post I talked about my dreams of VR and worries that if I waited too long to invest, I’d be too old to really enjoy the technology.

Mind you, I own Playstation VR so I had an inkling of what I was missing out on. PSVR is a solid enough system for what it costs but it has some technical limitations, and it’s not super convenient for me. (If you have a dedicated gaming room or live alone you won’t have the same issues.)

So I was thinking about this waiting game I’ve been playing when I set up the PSVR to sample No Man’s Sky in VR. I was a fan of No Man’s Sky when everyone was losing their shit over ‘broken promises’ and so forth, and I’m still a fan today. I was excited about the VR mode.

I wasn’t disappointed by the VR patch, but it does really stress PSVR. It’s like there’s a fog on your space helmet’s visor and anything more than 10 yards or so away appears as a blurry blob of pixels. The PS4 just isn’t powerful enough to support the game the way it should be supported. Still, it was enough to show me how well NMS works in VR.

That’s when I pulled the trigger. Is it crazy to spend $400 to play one game? I guess it depends on how much you love the game. Plus I knew it wouldn’t be the ONLY VR game I played.

So I ordered the Oculus Rift S in spite of reading a lot of posts about issues with MSI laptops (which I have). My superstitious side doesn’t even want to write these words, but so far I’ve had no significant problems.

There is a huge jump in quality going from PSVR to the Rift S (as you’d expect, given the price and age of the two systems). The inside-out tracking (instead of external cameras/sensors pointing at the visor, the visor has cameras looking out at the environment) is about 1000 times easier to deal with than the PSVR’s fussy camera.

So far I’ve found VR using this system very comfortable. I can wear the visor for long periods of time without any hint of simulation sickness, though physically I don’t find the Rift S as comfortable as PSVR (I’m still playing around with the proper way to wear it, though).

I still struggle to clear enough room to be really comfortable with “room sized” VR (Rift needs a 3′ by 3′ clear area and we need a larger apartment) but I played No Man’s Sky sitting in a swivel chair for quite some time and it was amazing. Hello Games has done a great job.

It’s early days yet (I got the system on Friday) but so far no regrets. I know the technology will get better and the Rift S will be obsolete soon enough, but I’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now I’m really happy I took the plunge. I’m not getting any younger, y’know.

VR: I’m running out of time

My first VR experience was Dactyl Nightmare, somewhere around 1991. I went into an arcade and a technician was just setting the machine up. Since he was still tweaking things he let me play around in it for longer than my $5 or $10 was supposed to get me. I was astounded. I was swept away. It was like the best acid trip ever. I wanted more.

Over the years I’ve dabbled. At one point I cobbled together a home VR system using a Mattel Power Glove and Sega 3D glasses from… the Saturn maybe? I played handball in my bedroom. It was pretty neat but also pretty damned low-res/laggy. I think I was running this on a 386sx PC, if that dates it for you. Y’know that might have even been before Dactyl Nightmare.

Since those days I’ve mostly been waiting for VR to arrive. Last year I took the plunge and got a Playstation VR system and that has been pretty fun, but let’s face it, it’s a bit limited in terms of resolution, given the power of the PS4 driving it. Plus it’s a bit of a chore to set up since the PS4 is in the living room. There are cables that get in the way, and the camera needs to be just so which means perching it on a stool in the middle of the room. I enjoy it and don’t regret the purchase but honestly I don’t use it as much as I would like just because there is so much ‘prep’ that has to happen before I turn it on, and because of how intrusive it is (for Angela and the doggo) to have cables strung across the room.

Lately I’ve been looking to upgrade. Right now there seem to be three ‘active’ options: Oculus Rift, the HP Vive and Valve’s Index. Both the Vive and Index require setting up sensors around the room; this makes them less than ideal for our current living space. That leaves the Rift S or the wireless Rift Quest. The former would connect to my PC tucked away in a corner of the kitchen, out of everyone’s way. The latter is wireless and seems to be pretty much “pick up and play.”

Problem is, both these systems still have limitations and flaws. I keep thinking “I should wait for the next iteration.” The tech will improve and/or get cheaper, support will become more prevalent. If anyone were to ask me, I’d say keep on waiting for VR to ‘arrive.’

Problem for me is, I’m old. I recently had my eyes checked and the doc wants to bump up my prescription (which happens every year). Recently had my ears checked and confirmed that my hearing is going. It’s age-related so there’s nothing to be done to fix it. My body seems to get stiffer every day. My hands hurt if I manipulate things for too long. Getting old sucks, make no mistake.

So I’m wondering how much time I realistically have to enjoy VR since it is kind of an ‘activity.’ Can I afford to wait another 5 or 10 years for the next jump in VR technology? How much blinder and deafer will I be by then? How much worse will my arthritis be? Plus I don’t want to end up on a “funny” YouTube video titled “Elders Try VR.” I mean, I’m already as old as a lot of those “elders” are. /fistshake

I’ve been having these internal discussions with myself more and more as the fact that life is most definitely finite gets in my face again and again. Yeah its depressing but hey, this is my life. If I have things I want to experience, it’s time to set about experiencing them. But…what if VR tech leaps ahead two years from now? I won’t be much worse in two years than I am now. I can wait for that, right?

Hmmm. If anyone finds the fountain of youth, give me a call. OK?

Days Gone: A Day in the Life

I’m trying to get in good with the old woman who runs this camp I’ve been hanging around. She has a job for me: a drifter had come into the camp to do some business, then had gotten drunk and beaten a few of her people to death. She wants revenge, and she wants me to get it.

This guy sounds like bad news so I say I’ll do it. I leave just after dawn but the world is nothing if not full of distractions and it’s afternoon by the time I get near the drifter’s camp. Turns out he’s got a gang of his own, and a well fenced compound with a 2 story tower. I’ll have to be careful.

And I think I am being careful until the sniper’s laser sight sweeps past me; I hadn’t even seen the sniper in the second, smaller tower. I duck behind some rocks but between a guard patrolling and the sniper sweeping back and forth I know it won’t be long before I’m found. So I peer out, take a deep breath to enhance my focus, and squeeze the trigger.

The sniper drops from a clean head shot but of course the gunfire alerts the entire camp. I should’ve spent the credits for a suppressor. The patrolling guard comes running over and I leap out from cover, my machete blade flashing in the late afternoon sunshine. One less guard.

I spot my mark; he’s in the second tower checking the sniper. I take a shot, miss, and he flees, heading for the bigger tower. I guess he thinks he is safe up there because he stops. Another head shot and he is down, but I need a trophy for the old lady. Dude carries a crowbar and she wants it, but there’s an angry gang between me and it.

I fall back, skirt around the camp and sneak in through a gap in the wall. I drop down off a ledge; risky because I can’t climb back up. There’s some tall grass to take cover in and…SNAP! Bastards have left a leg trap in the grass and now I’m trapped in it. It doesn’t hurt too much but I’m a sitting duck. Rather than panic I get ready for the enemy and I take out a couple as they come rushing around a rock face. Now I have time to get free.

Low and slow, I make my way across the compound taking out the rest of the gang. Or at least that’s what I thought. Climb the tower and, oh hell, there’s a couple more up here and they’re making a last stand. I duck behind a wall, so do they. We exchange shots and soon they’re dead and I’m bandaging my wounds and checking my ammo supply, which is starting to be a concern.

Stupid me, rather than grab that crowbar and get out, I start looting the place. I’m still up in the tower when a few bikes roll up; reinforcements and me trapped at the top of the tower. They know I’m up there somewhere and are yelling for me to come out. One gets brave, comes up to my level and pays for his boldness with his life.

During my looting I’d found some pipe-bombs; too many for me to carry them all. So I get cute. I light a fuse, chuck it down by their bikes. I miss, but one of the idiots runs over to see what he’d heard, and gets there just in time for the bomb to go off. Another down.

Then I hear it, and so do they: the screeching and shrieking. A horde comes flowing into the far end of the camp; I guess the pipe bomb was a bad idea. I hadn’t even noticed that it had gotten dark. The gang members are screaming and shooting but there’s no hope for them. Soon the shouting stops. I’m cowering at the top of this tower, only one way down. Afraid to breathe. I hear the freakers howling and scrabbling and I’m praying they haven’t noticed me. Apparently they haven’t. They move through the camp and funnel out the entrance and towards my bike. Aw hell.

My luck holds, though, as they leave the road before they reach the bike, and wander down a hill. I wait until I can no longer see them, then creep down the stairs and back to the bike. I don’t want to risk drawing the horde back so I just roll down the road a bit before firing up the engine and getting the hell out of there.

The old woman is sweet as pie to me now; last week I was just a pain in her ass, now I’m her most reliable guy. Really all I want is a safe place to sleep at this point; that, at least, I get.

Gameplay Notes

It’s hard to say how much of this was “emergent” gameplay and what was scripted. I’m fairly certain the bikers coming back were triggered when I picked up the crowbar. The horde though: I don’t see how that was scripted though it might have triggered when I’d killed X defenders? It really seemed like the pipe bomb drew them in; I’m going with that. There were a LOT of them and it was creepy as hell, even for me the player. You can only save your game at your bike so if the horde had got me I would’ve had to re-start the entire fight. I really was holding my breath.

And I tell you, watching those things shamble off into the darkness… sheesh it gives me the shivers just thinking about it!

The trip back was a story in itself as freakers [aka zombies; the fast moving variety] were everywhere and at one point one leapt at me and knocked me off my bike. I had to fight half a dozen of them using the machete (didn’t want guns to draw in even more) which of course broke on me. I had to stab the last two with my boot knife; a method I wouldn’t recommend. Took forever.

Really enjoying this game. Sorry for lake of screenshots; they’re just so cumbersome to deal with on the PS4 and the colors are always mucked up because I play with HDR on.

Final Fantasy XIV Crash & Burn

The last time I wrote a proper post here was June 10th and at that point I’d been playing FFXIV for about 10 days. And until about a week or two ago, I’d been playing it every day, pretty much exclusively.

Then I skipped a day for some reason. And another day. Then I logged in for about 10 minutes and that was that. I may be done with FFXIV for now.

This always happens to me; it’s my cycle of Discovery, Ridiculous Enthusiasm (accompanied with “gonna play this 4-ever!” giddiness), The Routine and finally, the big DROP happens. I think I need to learn to acknowledge when playing has just become due to habit rather than desire, and maybe step back at that point. If I play a few times a week rather than every day maybe I can keep the enthusiasm up. Makes sense, but y’know, at my age I’m not sure I can learn new tricks.

They don’t look like trolls but believe me, they are.

What really killed FFXIV for me was the Horrible Hundred; the huge swathe of quests that happen after you finish A Realm Reborn and before you start Heavensward. During these (which took me a few weeks to get through) there is almost no multiplayer content. A few raids and dungeons, but mostly you run around doing fetch quests.

Back when these were new people were probably mixing them up with doing dungeons for fun, but with the “Road to 70” buff I was already so over-leveled that I didn’t want the XP that would come with doing anything extra. I just wanted to get to Heavensward so every night I’d log in, feeling vaguely irritated by how much these quests sucked, but determined to get through them.

And I did, finally. And then Heavensward began and it was more of the same. Heavensward, at launch, was meant to take characters from level 50 to level 60. I was level 60 before I started it, meaning now the Heavensward quests are trivial. The ‘correct’ course for me would be to level a 2nd job, and I thought about leveling a healer but now it’s been so long since I’ve done MP content that I’m facing my natural resistance to doing it. I was a social gamer for a while, though!

Plus as soon as I stopped logging into FFXIV I started remembering the 5,000 other games in my backlog, frontlog and sidelog. (OK I exaggerate a little.) I’ve been bouncing around from Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to Dragon Quest Builders 2 and then to Days Gone (among others.).

The best thing about playing an MMO is that you save money on other games, but the worst thing about playing an MMO is that you miss out on so many other games.

My only real regret is that I bought TWO 60-day time cards in order to get two Fat Chocobo mounts for 2 characters and so my sub is paid through to something like October.

The good news for everyone else is that in patch 5.3 (which is out sometime later this year I believe) the developers are going to streamline this early content to make it faster to get through. There are no real details of that, but if you’re considering picking up FFXIV, I’d urge you to wait until 5.3. Right now the grind is really depressing. And despite what some will tell you, the story does NOT make it worth it. (Well obviously that’s my opinion.)

I had a good run, though. Hopefully before too long I’ll be ready to jump back in for a while. I do come out of it with some fond memories….

I don’t know these people but they invited me to their wedding, which was ADORABLE!
I joined a guild and lasted like 6 weeks before my inner introvert drove me to leave.
Of course eventually I gave in and created a Viera.

Viral Questionnaire responses

So that rascal Belghast pinged me on a viral questionnaire that is making the rounds. His purpose seemed to be to poke me to see if my blog software still works, given how long it has been since I posted. It does!

The idea is that I answer 7 questions he sent, then I’m supposed to come up with 7 new questions and send them to 7 other bloggers. I’m not sure I know seven other bloggers that haven’t already been tagged, though, so I’m going to be a spoil-sport and just answer Bel’s questions. Also see question 2. Anyway, here goes nothing:

  • What is your earliest memory?

I grew up in a fishing community. We ate a lot of shellfish and used the shells to “pave” the driveway. The adults would just toss the shells out there and drive over them and it was like poor-man’s gravel, I guess. Anyway, I was maybe 3 years old, walking across this (I guess I had tough feet back then) and I stepped on a shell that had a yellow jacket in it and got stung. All I remember is that I got stung, cried a bunch and got carried inside. My next memory is from years later so this must’ve had quite an impact.

  • What is something that you have lost in your past that you would love to have today?

This one hurts to admit, but it’s my imagination. I used to have a really vivid imagination but it has faded with time. In some ways I blame video games for that. A lot of my ‘imagination time’ was spent on making up some kind of story behind the games and activities I enjoyed. (I was effectively an only child — my brother left home when I was six — and there were no other kids in my neighborhood so I spent a lot of time playing alone.) Then video/computer games came along and they gave me both the activity and the story behind it. Or maybe it is just part of getting older? Anyway when I fire up Minecraft or The Sims (something that lets me create) I just tend to stare vacantly, devoid of ideas. And I could no longer write fiction if my life depended on it. I just don’t get the ideas like I used to.

Answering the same question from a completely different point of view, I’d say the ocean. As I said, I grew up in a fishing community but it was also in the Hamptons and we were in the ocean constantly during warm weather. I really miss that and would love to have it back.

  • What is the last piece of media (book/movie/video/whatever) that really moved you emotionally?

SPOILERS: Has to be Avengers: Endgame, for a couple of reasons (and I should point out that I just watched it last weekend for the first time). I’ve never been a HUGE comic book fan but when I was a kid I’d get Marvel comics mostly for Stan’s Soapbox. Stan Lee was the first adult that felt like he was talking to me, not talking down to me. My father died when I was young, my mom eventually re-married someone I never respected. In a weird way Stan Lee was my prevalent father-figure. When he died I was crushed, and somehow seeing some of the long-time Avengers being phased out kind of reinforced that feeling. So the movie both reminded me that Stan is gone, and removed from the playfield characters I’ve “known” since I was a boy.

  • What was your favorite childhood “character” (comic/movie/literary/etc) and has that changed over the years?

This one is tough. I guess I’d have to say James T Kirk. He was, at the least, the character that I watched over and over again. I mean look, he traveled through the stars, won every fight, got every woman he chased, but he wasn’t just a warrior; he was a diplomat, too. And having Spock as a friend, who I was also drawn to because he was so damned smart, just made him even better.

I dunno that I have a favorite these days. I am now more drawn to worlds and ensembles of characters than to individuals. I love Tolkien’s world, but I can’t point at a single character and say “THAT is my favorite.” I enjoy TV shows, even bad ones, that have a crew of characters who get along, watch each others backs, and have fun together. I think that might be a reflection of being such an introvert. I don’t have friends of my own so I enjoy watching other groups of friends.

  • What are you looking forward to the most in the second half of 2019?

Hmm, I can’t think of a damned thing. Getting closer to the election that has some small chance of turning this ship around. Gaming-wise, nothing has me really fired up. I’m looking forward to new consoles, but that’s next year. I guess I’m really curious about how well Stadia will work.

  • What is your greatest fear and has it changed as you have aged?

Jeez Bel, you don’t pull any punches, eh? My greatest fear is being helpless. Always has been. Like being broke and unable to provide for myself. Or having a lingering illness where I need people to look after me. Really I hate having to ask for help or HAVING to rely on others. (Which is slightly different from having people offering to help me with something just because they actually WANT to help.)

What keeps you engaged in a community over time and where do you feel the most at home?

I’ve yet to find a community that I can stay engaged in, so for the first part of that question, I just don’t know. I feel most at home sitting on the couch alone (well aside from my doggo) playing a single player game. Thankfully Angela gets this and is willing to give me that “alone time” on a pretty regular basis. I’ve tried, over and over, to get involved in online communities, but really most people irritate me unless I keep them at arm’s length, so thus far I’ve always failed to make the online community thing work.

So that’s my questions answered! Hopefully I’ve been a semi-good sport. I just don’t know 7 other people to tag even if I HAD 7 new questions, which I don’t. Every chain has a last link, I guess!

Final Fantasy XIV makes me a better person. Sort of.

Recently Square Enix was running one of its “come back to Final Fantasy XIV” promotions. If you were a former player you could get a week of sub time just by logging in. As the period for this was winding down I figured “Hey free time, I better use it!” so I did.

I’ve always loved the world of Final Fantasy XIV. The weird creatures, the ridiculously overwrought dialog, the cute female characters [ahem, not sure I should admit that one]. For me it really leans into the “fantasy” part of the title.

I’ve always disliked Final Fantasy XIV because of the forced grouping. In order to unlock things in the game you have to follow the Main Story Quests and these send you to group dungeons fairly often. I simply DO NOT like playing with others, particularly strangers. It makes me super anxious because I’m afraid I’ll do something that negatively impacts other players and I hate looking stupid in front of people. [Yeah don’t think this stems from altruism; we all know me better than that. I just don’t want to embarrass myself.]

Busy starter cities
I was happy to discover that the ‘starter cities’ are still nicely populated

But I started playing and thanks to a “Preferred Server” buff I flew through the levels and the quests and within a day or two I was faced with queuing for dungeons. I summoned my courage, queued up, started sweating it out. When the Duty (as they are called in FFXIV) popped I almost declined it, but I didn’t. And I found that at this point you are essentially carried in low level dungeons. Bosses die so fast (since most of your party will by max level) that you don’t even have to worry about special mechanics.

This, I guess, is the beauty of FFXIV rewarding high level players to replay low level content. And for me it made a huge difference. That first dungeon wasn’t so bad. Just to be safe before I did another I watched some YouTube videos showing the special features/tricks of the next few dungeons, then I pressed on.

All these people are doing a level 15 or so quest. The little filmstrip icon next to their name shows they are in a cut scene

Before this gets stupid long, let me summarize. I learned that low level dungeons are generally stress free. I learned that letting folks know “This is my first time” often actually gets you helpful advice. And I learned that if the party wipes, it’s generally not the DPS dude’s fault (that’s me), it’s just over-exuberance on the part of the tank, and people shrug it off, slow down a little and finish the fight.

Somehow I’ve now gone from dreading these dungeon runs to looking forward to them. Now my gripe is that queue times are too long for a DPS and I’m thinking of starting a tank or healing job. Now I’m often the first guy who says “Hi!” in group chat; I’ve become, dare I say it? Social. I joined a Free Company (guild). I joined a Linkshell (group chat). OK so it is the Novice Network linkshell that is pretty impersonal, but still!

I don’t know what this is, but I didn’t mess with it. It was level 50

I feel like after playing FFXIV for a while, I’ll be able to go into any other MMO and queue up for group content and not sweat it so much. I’m sure at some point I’ll have that experience of someone getting mad and rage-quitting or calling me names because I suck, but already I have a nice body of experience that shows me that is the rare exception and not the norm. Honestly for the most part, people don’t talk at all except maybe a hello at the start and a ‘thanks for the party’ at the end.

That said, I’m still having a blast with FFXIV. I’ve re-subbed and will keep playing for the foreseeable future. Which reminds me, I should probably cancel my SWTOR subscription. 🙁