Relative Time

Einstein was right.

There’s an interesting argument to be had around the duration of an activity in relation to another.  The old “holding a burning pot vs a loved one” argument. Mega Man’s 25 screens/level format feels just the right length of engagement, while the time spent travelling between one location and another in Pillars of Eternity can feel like years.  Clearly, it’s based on subjective pleasure of an activity.  More than that, it often relates to player engagement.

Menial tasks are not engaging.  Very few people find pleasure from the act of cleaning a garage, though the end result is certainly pleasant and cathartic.  Games that focus on the menial busywork lose my attention quickly.  I certainly don’t mind fiddling with details, but those details need purpose and impact.  Back to PoE2 for a second.  I’m still stuck in the first part of the game because travel takes so damn long and does nothing for the game.  I’ve never had a random event, a ship battle, and only seen 2 isles to explore – all without combat.  Why pad on 2-3 minutes of non-interactive and repetitive gameplay?  Spider-Man has a ton of travel, but the act of travelling is chocked full of random events and interactive gameplay.  You learn the ability to fast travel long before you’ve completed the checklist of random events.

The disengagement from WoW relates strongly to this as well.  World Quests are even more menial than in Legion.  Dungeons (non-M+) could have been mistaken for MoP dungeons in many cases.  The world and story items are excellent, but they lack replayability.  I truthfully miss Suramar’s evolving story, or the Withered dungeon, or the Mage Tower.

MH:W’s missions are generally time-based – 50 minutes a shot.  Sometimes less if you’re on an investigation.  50 minutes that cannot be paused I may add.  When you start off the game and learning the ropes, very few battles go over 20 minutes.  As you progress, the larger enemies start taking a lot longer.  Either due to them having larger HP pools, or due to the combat mechanics requiring more patience.

Example is a recent Lavasioth fight.  30 minutes to hunt, and I wanted to actually capture it for the collection.  Capturing and fighting all monsters in the Arena unlocks extra gear bits.  He’s a bit of a bugger as his armor gets more resistant over time, until he goes back in the magma.  He also has a tremendously powerful fireball attack, so positioning is key.  Throw in a roaming Rathalos and you have a potent mix for long fights.  I ended the fight with about 2 minutes to spare.  Dung pods would have helped with the Rathalos.  Making the fight go faster still requires a better weapon (such as water-based), and overall better skill with using the weapon.  Considering I’ve just completed Nergigante, I need a whole lot more drops to widen my weapon arsenal.

Still, if I were to randomly capture 5 minutes of that fight, it would likely include a whole pile of dodging, rolling, striking, healing, and getting thrown around.  It would be more hectic than practiced, that’s for sure.  But every piece of that would be engaging to me.  Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly menial tasks in MH:W- like killing 8 Girros or some such.  But they are so rare, that they feel like reprieve from the walking death machines on other quests.

MH:W doesn’t do bite-size gaming well, since you can’t really leave a quest mid-point without losing all the previous progress.  It doesn’t try to.  It does moment to moment gaming very well, so that you don’t see the time go by.  Better than a whole pile of other games I’ve played in recent years.  I often find myself losing track of time, thinking I’m a minute away from my goal.  Then the dreaded “one more turn” thought comes in, and there goes 15 more minutes.  That’s an oddly good feeling to have – wish it applied to more things in life.

 

Learning Through Plateaus

Starts and stops along the way.

I’m a firm believer in the learn/apply/learn model.  You find this model primarily in sports, where there are study sessions, followed by practice, then by games, then repeat.  You rarely find this model in actual schools, which is somewhat ironic.  Schools instead focus on the learn/learn/learn model, with very few instances of practical application, except for one large one at the end of the term.  That final exam rarely has anything to do with much more than ensuring you memorized a textbook.

The flipside is the apply/apply/apply model, where you just brute force your way through a problem.  Sure, this can work if your problem is large hamburger, but there has got to be a cleaner way to finish a plate!  Not to mention the inherent danger of trying something without any concept as to how it works.  How many folks do you know that have electrocuted themselves trying to do some “small repair”?

Outside of fringe cases, you need time to learn, and time to put that study into practice, then learn from that practice.  Without taking the time for that last step is where people hit plateaus.  A plateau in the sense of lack of further progress, where you simply stall moving forward.  In nearly all cases it’s a lack of study of the problem and solutions that holds a person back.

When I initially picked up the guitar, my hands were simply incapable of forming an F bar.  I was twisting my wrist and stretching my fingers, and generally swearing to some old god that I could make this work.  It was a week plus trying to get that thing to work.  I did some reading/watching and found a similar cord that didn’t require a bar, and bob’s your uncle, it works.  It’s not to say that I stopped practicing a bar chord, just that I moved on from that particular plateau onto the next.  A bar B is next.

Nergigante

Of course a game!

The first time I met this guy on PS4, I spent the better part of a week taking him down solo.  I knew his patterns, but there was a particular set of moves that I simply could not avoid – the dive bomb, and front smash/throw (after being hit).  Near constant instant-KO.  With time, I figured out the i-frame dive, which makes you invulnerable to damage.  The catch here, is that you need to have your weapons sheathed.  With Dual Blades, this is a quick animation.

This is not a quick animation with the Charge Blade.  I’m sure I saw grass grow the number of times I tried this.  I failed this quest a half dozen times trying to make the old process work again here.  I tried tweaking my positioning, reading the shade of black on the spikes to predict it… it just wasn’t coming together.  Then I decided to take a small breather than think a bit more.  Brain fart enough, the Charge Blade comes with a shield.

Sure enough, blocking the damage for all his attacks deals minimal damage, and provided a single opening for a SAED.  So for the first 80% of the fight, it was more or less attacking until I was SAED-ready, then waiting to block an attack, then countering with a massive strike.  First attempt failed at the 90% mark, the dive bomb still one shot me and I guess it’s related to the angle of attack.  Second attempt I didn’t faint once.

The old set of tricks were not going to work here, no matter how hard-headed I was to make them fit.  I thought I knew enough, but was clearly proven wrong.  It’s interesting to look back on my mental process for this plateau.  Certainly could have saved some headaches by taking more time to think, than do.  At least I didn’t blow a week like last time, so some bit of progress.

Striking the Mountain

He’s a zone unto himself.

MHW has 3 phases.  Low Rank (LR), High Rank (HR), and Tempered (T).  Each tends to focus on an Elder Dragon – some mean buggers.  Low Rank is all about Zora Magdaros.

mhw-zorah_magdaros_screenshot_006

That’s a walking mountain

The missions with Zora are not at all like other hunts.  They start off on his (it’s?) back where you need to destroy 3 cores that do fire damage.  You also have the option of fighting Nergigante – but that is seriously a bad idea.  While roaming on his back, you can mine a few ore spots, for much needed material to craft some decent gear. The next part varies but the repeatable version includes you shooting canons, a dragonator (a giant spike), and ballistae for about 10 minutes until he finally drops.  The only difficulty here is not dying to the magmacore fire attacks.

If you luck out, you can do this quest 2 more times after the first, and that should give you at least 1 HR piece of Zora armor.  Which is a significant boost.

From here you reach the first major interlude.  The goal of which is to enter HR areas and find some Rathian clues.  Just regular exploring will work, but you’ll need to spend a lot of time doing it.  You can boost this by completing some rank 6 quests.  I’m at this spot now.

If I recall, the game then takes a more open approach following this step.  You’ll get a bunch of optional quests, but the main one will be about finding the 3 elder dragons, killing Nergigante (super death mode), killing the 3 elders, then finally Xeno’jiva.  From that point forward you’ll have access to Tempered monsters.

On paper, I’m about 75% of the way there since I have 7 monster kill quests to go.  In reality… not so much since I’ll need to improve my gear to take on those 7 monsters.

Guard Point

My previous playthrough was focused on Dual Blades.  It was extremely visceral and had little to do with thinking.  Sure, there was a skill ceiling higher than just mashing buttons – but mashing buttons was so fulfilling!  That generated a lot of hard walls to climb.  Anjanath, Pink Rathian, Nergigante… those buggers were death incarnate.  I had to really learn the game mechanics to get past them – in particular monster weaknesses, attack patterns, and the i-frame dodge.  That last one is extremely useful for Nergigante’s attacks that can/will 1-shot you.  If your weapon is sheathed, and you dodge, you’ll actually throw yourself to the ground and be immune to damage for about a second.  Given you need to sheath, it’s not something you can quickly react to.

The Charge Blade has that dodge as well as a thing called Guard Point.  I’m pretty sure the Sword & Shield have this too.  The thing here is that you have 3 particular movements that present your shield in front of you, and if the monster hits that shield they take damage and you take none.  It took a while for me to learn the timing of this, and Diablos is the best one to try this with first.

When I figured out how to properly use Guard Point, my gameplay changed.  I tend to be somewhat conservative, looking for an opening, and then striking.  Effective use of Guard Points means I can go all out, and counter 90% of physical attacks.  And with a boosted shield, I can do even more damage, countered with an immediate SAED.

It took a while to figure out the timing, but wow, does it ever make combat more engaging.

 

Choose Your Own Adventure

Or non-linear growth.

I’d say schools are the best and worst examples of this.  The basic concept of moving up a grade is linear, and you’ll find enough teachers unwilling to stray from the A–>B–>C learning concepts.  But you will always find at least one in your life (hopefully more) that goes so far outside of bounds that you come out of that class with a deeper appreciation of everything.  (My personal feelings about teachers could fill a novel.)  Your abilities in one area are rarely held back by those in another.  They may have dependencies, or benefits mind you.

I’m a decent hockey player, it’s the sport I spent the most time playing.  But I also played nearly every other sport possible, and I’m above average in most.  I don’t really get by on the physical side, but on the mental one.  You would be surprised to learn how most sports operate on the same concepts – in particular group play.  Seeing the play happen before it does, and then anticipating the next step.  That mental cross link is the key.

We see it in nearly all games.  If you’ve played one tab-target MMO, you likely have all the basic skills required for another.  Sure, you’ll eventually learn the specifics of that other game, the nuances that make it, well, it.  Even some more basic elements, like not standing in fire, that translates to nearly every other game as well.  Now the mechanics of how that fire is created, spread, and your movement abilities are game specific, but the concept of GTFO is the same.

Then you have skills that have very little overlap.  I play a bit of guitar, and it has very little in common with other skills.  Physically, I need to contort my wrist/hands into odd positions.  Mentally I need to recall sets of notes, large structures, timing, and then the actual song.  It’s a performance skill, meaning 99% practice, 1% actual presentation.  And that 1% requires a level of confidence that can be hard to find.  But when you try a bit, and you fail, and you succeed, you start to see how it fits into other abilities.  Many songs are built on the same set of cords or transitions, so it’s less about memorizing the notes but the overall pattern.  The rhythm in music is fundamentally based on heart beats, which many athletes are conscious about while active.  The fine motor movement on the strings is similar to typing, or a heavy APM game like SC2.  Even the wrist movements are quite similar to just good knife technique in the kitchen.

MH:W is making me think of all this due to the 14 weapon types.  Conceptually they fit one of 3 molds – attack, defense, range.  Mechanically, they are all quite different.  If you use a long sword like you use dual blades, you’re gonna have a bad time, mmkay.  But they do share something in common, they are all rhythm based.  A charge blade is more akin to a waltz, where large sweeping and deliberate movements are key.  Sword and shield feels like you are waiting for the bass to drop (defend), then go all out.  The glaive is more like prancing in an instrumental ballet.  Each weapon has a best suited monster to fight, where their own rhythm impacts its pairing.  Rather than thinking the entire game needs to be learned from scratch, you can take previous experience in many fields and apply it here with great effect.

I am continually fascinated at how all my learning can be applied to other fields, and that there’s never really a feeling of time lost.  Something as simple as making a puzzle forces you to look at the big picture before making sense of the details.  Breadth of experience and understanding how to tap into that skill set… that’s the key to versatility and adaptability.  Depth of experience certainly has it’s uses (e.g. get a certified electrician) but in the wide majority of cases it’s better to expand one’s knowledge rather than perfect it.

 

 

The Memory Game

Games are a series of meaningful choices.  Meaningful.

Snakes and Ladders, Candyland, games of that type have no choices.  It’s entirely random.  Something like Yahtzee has choices based on statistical chance, so the odds certainly favor someone strong in math than just a random roll.  The rolls in one turn have minimal impact on the next turn, just the overall score.  Compare that to say, Risk, where early decisions (and random luck) will impact nearly every other turn that follows.  The complete other side of that is Chess or Go, with no randomness with players who understand the mechanics.

Then we look at replay value, which is often predicated on the number of choices present.  7th Continent is a really good example of a game with a solid set of meaningful choices, but a limited supply.  Once you know that A does B – every time – then you can choose to pick or skip A.  The choice is effectively removed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about meaningful choices lately.  MMOs seem to be going more towards the removal of choice, and focus on randomness.  Single player games are all about choices.  Spider-Man, God of War, Horizon, Zelda… all games where the player is in control of their choices, and there’s a clear line between their actions and the consequences.  In the GoW Valkyrie fights, I never once felt cheated by some random event.  They were extremely hard, and each death was painful, but they were all based on clear choices I made.

Running through MHW anew really brings that point home.  I can remember the large scale items of the game, the systems, the layouts of the maps, the types of enemies, and their general habits.  I know that if I need Ancient Bones… well, I’m only going to find them in one place.  Same with Mosswine.  But the specifics, I don’t remember that part.  For example, I know there’s a campsite in the northern Wastes if you drop down a small cubby hole.  I have no idea what materials are required to actually unlock access to it.  I know that Barroth has a tough armor to crack, but there was a way to get around that without Mind’s Eye that eludes me.

It’s a bit like having a lot of puzzle pieces and the picture on the box is fuzzy.  Knowing something but not quite remembering what it is.  It’s both frustrating since you feel like you should know, and fulfilling when you do get it and get a really solid ahhhhhhh.

Long story short, MHW is more fun now since the frustrations of obtuse mechanics isn’t there anymore.  I can focus on executing my strategy, and then the moment to moment events.  Like having to collect 20 mushrooms and ending up killing a Great Jagras and Pukei-Pukei in the same run.  That just doesn’t seem to get old.  Next up is my previous nemesis, Anjanath.  The fire breathing T-Rex.

Hunting on the PC

I have an aversion to repeating tutorials.  Many of them are built for people who have never picked up a controller before.  While I’m sure those people exist, I am not one of them.  Monster Hunter World however, the “newbie” tutorial lasts about 1 minute and it involves moving up two walls and jumping off a dragon’s head.  There are worse things in life.

The tutorials past that point are almost as obtuse as the game itself.  I still recall my first 10 hours on PS4, still not understanding the basics of just food – let alone elemental effects.  There are even embedded videos to show you how to properly use one of the 14 weapons but not a single one does justice.

I have experience with Dual Blades (by far the most offensively mobile), the Switch Axe (easy controls, decent damage), and the Charge Blade (technical, with highest damage potential).  And that’s with hours and hours of practice.  I decided to give the Charge Blade a go as primary in this run, and woo-boy, do I have rust.

Here’s one of the better tutorials for that weapon.  It’s 18 minutes.

Rust is polite.  The first few fights are simple.  Some generic lizards (Jagras), their ugly uncle (Great Jagras), and then the Kula-Ya-Ku (a slow witted bird).  If you can aim, you can take these buggers out.  And that’s my issue with the Charge Blade – aiming.

MH:W has a dance to battles, a rhythm.  You press buttons in a specific sequence, and depending on the state of animation, you press other buttons.  Charge Blade is really strong on that latter item.  I have a shield charge attack that starts with holding a button… press it too long and it deflates.  Charging my shield requires me actively cancelling another attack.  Charging my sword is the same.  If I time it all perfect, then I get the shield charged, more phials, and can launch ultron mode (super amped elemental discharge – or SAED).  That attack can take out 25% of an enemy’s HP.  And if I time it right, I can get 2 of them off during a single enemy stun.

So the potential is there.  I just need some practice to get back into the groove.   Well that’s a bit of a lie, I was never excellent at the Charge Blade.  Dual Blades were my life source, and I took down every possible enemy with that thing.  The true test for any weapon is Nergigante.  Kill him, and you know how to use a weapon.  I did, but never in a single try.  Always room to improve.

So starts my MH:W journey on PC.  I am 2 quests in, haven’t yet managed to eat dirt, an d have hours and hours of things left to unlock.  Knowing they are there to get, and knowing what the benefits are, that’s making this quite an interesting run through.

More Monster Hunter

With WoW fading from view, I’m looking for something else to fill in bits of time.  I have my PS4 connected to a projector in the basement, but since I’m cheap, I don’t have the online services hooked up.  The time played in MHW on the PS4 was solo only.  I did start a recent replay of Horizons, but that time investment will be in fits and spurts.  God of War is still too fresh for a replay… and I unlocked every bit but 3 Valks in the last run.

The gaming laptop has a wide selection of options.  I completed the new season of D3 in a couple days.  Pillars of Eternity is about half way through.  I have an XCOM2 save that I’m holding off on until some of the interesting DLC stuff is out in a few weeks.  Dead Cells and Cuphead are on the wishlist for a rainy day – which seems to be the only type of day around here lately…

Nope, I’m heading back into the MH World.  It’s been a good 3 months since my last battle, and there are still massive amounts of content that I have yet to see.  It will certainly make the multiplayer aspect of that game an option.  There were quite a few battles that made me tear out my hair.  Tempered Teostra is on that list.  Plus, there’s something about the MH model of continual progression that just works.

The strategic layer of targeting specific monsters and making goals… that hits me right in the good spot.  Unlocking new camps, new pieces of food, finally getting that rare drop… feels good man!  The tactical layer of preparing for a battle, laying out the lines and traps. Then the actual battles have great moment-to-moment energy.  The individual phases of health, the set time periods of a battle in a specific location…it’s hard to get bored on any specific battle since they often have something new to add.

I remember farming a Tempered Jyuratodus (the fish one).  8 battles, 8 different fights.  Bazelgeuse joined a few times to throw me off my game.  The various little bits added make for an enjoyable and repeatable game.

I did dual blades last time.  I’m thinking full switch axe this one.  Always one for the glass canon approach.