Personal Record

There’s a certain zen when you do any exercise.  Hockey has that effect on me, time just seems to slow down.  That mindset provides a unique point of view, a specific focus on a set of goals.  When momentum is going your way, there’s nothing that can stop you.  When it isn’t, it feels like all the bounces are going the other way.

Weight lifting is very similar, though the only competition is yourself.  You’re competing against numbers and progress.  For a decent amount of time, that progress is constant, so it’s a continuously positive cycle.  You eventually reach a plateau and need to re-assess your goals.  There’s a rather intense focus on very minute gains.  But when that number hits the goal, it’s like winning the lottery.  I hit one of those last night.

I have 3 main goals relating to Squat, Bench, and Deadlift.  Those are 250, 200, 300 (750lbs combined).  I hit the squat number a while ago and realized then that playing hockey 3x a week could not allow me to push the bar much higher.  So rather than reset my squat goal, I aimed to hit the other ones instead.

Bench has had it’s ups and downs.  I’m thinking it will take until mid-summer to reach it.  I need to re-focus my technique, since I’m stalling earlier than I had planned.

Deadlift though, I hit my 300lbs last night (5 reps).  It felt really good and I considered adding more weight to find my true 1 rep max.  Then I realized I was out of breath and way too high on hormones for that to be considered safe.  I’ll be playing it safe the next few sets and cap it at the same amount and truly focus on the Bench moving forward.

Once the fall comes around, I’ll be dropping one night of hockey (it was too much) and reset my lifting goals.  I think that adding 50lbs total (so, 800) is more than doable.  I am looking forward to the next session!

Truth and Trespass

This is going to be a gripe post.

I’m nearing the end now, or at least it feels like it.  I’ll have a summary post at that point, but the general themes so far have stuck through.  There are bits and pieces that work, and others that don’t.  The ones that don’t are unfortunately systems/mechanics.  The things that work are the small story bits, but it’s highly inconsistent.

Truth and Trespass is the most perfect example of this.  There are some spoilers here, be warned.

This quest happens after you find the Salarian ark.  Seems that there’s a possibility that the Salarians sabotaged themselves.  This is a very cool premise, given that the lore of Salarians is that science >>>> reason.  So, there’s potential!

What happens next is you running across 5 locations.  Moving between locations takes 2-3 minutes, depending on the loading screens.  Then you need to get to the quest locations, which is another 2-3 minutes.  Often times you have to run through a small set of enemies once there.  Not challenging in any shape, just filler.  Then you either scan or talk to an NPC.  There are no options presented, it’s just reading dialogue.

The final step does have a decision point.  You find the truth of the matter and are given the choice to exact justice or exchange freedom for information.  This is one of the few times where I thought about it for more than a few seconds.  The information is presented as being extremely valuable, and the damage is already done.  So you’re not actively preventing something, it’s simply a “justice” question.  I therefore opted for the information path.

I was rewarded with a codex entry of 3 paragraphs with information that I had already gathered through other means.  Well, that and info that 2 other races existed (but not meet them in this game).

So, nearly an hour of running around, what appears to be a difficult decision, and I get a codex entry.  This is bullshot-level quest design.

 

History

ME:A’s largest issue is history.  ME:2 & 3 were good games, with good writing.  The ending of ME:3 is a separate discussion for this point.  When we quested in those games, there was impact in the decisions.  Changing the leadership of the Krogan, reversing the genophage, freeing the Geth.  Those were big deals.  The actual quests were in rather unique, isolated locations, that were thematically appropriate.

ME:A does little of this.  Many quests span multiple planets for no reason.  Aside from three quests (Krogan, Primus, and Exiles) there doesn’t appear to be any decision point that has any in-game consequences. When there are no consequences, then why bother making a choice in the first place?

There is a pile of breadth here.  Lots of stuff to do.  Piles.  There’s just no depth.

The sad part is, if this was a new IP, it would be somewhat acceptable.  The fact that this game carries the Mass Effect name, there are expectations that are simply not met.

Movie Musings

Went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last night.  It’s a solid enough retread of the first movie.

I remember watching GotG back in 2015, where superhero movies were a lot more serious.  It really stood out, with both visuals and sounds from the 80s – like a giant throwback.  Since then we’ve had Ant-Man, Dr Strange (more trippy than funny), Strange Things, and a pile of TV series.  They figure out that laughing is good entertainment.

GotG2 takes that to the next level, where there are no serious people.  Drax fights for about 3 minutes at the start of the movie, then another 3 minutes in the first act, then never again.  He’s relegated to throwing out punchlines (which admittedly are pretty good).  Where GotG went more or less full speed (minus the Collector-related scenes), GotG2 spends a lot more time examining why these people are who they are.  It does work, just not as well as expected given the rest of the tone of the movie.  Still a very enjoyable movie.

Related, this movie is why I am so hesitant on Zack Snyder’s Wonder Woman film.  He seems completely unable to project relateable heroes.  That works in the Watchmen, since it’s part of the underlying theme, but since then… ugh.  Still, the trailers look good and my wife is super-mega-hyped.

The Dark Tower

 

I’ve read the books and have been looking forward to this for a long time.  Given the cyclical nature of the story, this is a sequel to the books.  It’s a weird series to explain to people.  Anyhow, I think the setting works, Idris and Matthew are well-cast.  My concern is around the idea that the Gunslinger is somehow

  • not telling everyone he’s a gunslinger
  • not willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to get to the Tower

If you’ve read the books, those are the two things that make him stand out – aside from you know, being good with guns.  He has no fear, and will do anything to reach his goal.  Perhaps it’s just related to the cut.  Fingers crossed.

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies.  I still watch it every other month.  You can clearly see the impact it had on cinema moving forward, as pretty much every sci-fi movie pays homage to the ideas, visuals, or sounds.

This one is set 30 years after the first one.  Deckard is still alive, so that would mean he’s not a replicant (they have short lifespans).  There’s a very large focus on how technology has impacted society, which is very appropriate I think.  Surreal that after nearly 40 years (BR was in ’82) that it retains so much of the original’s essence.  Having Denis Villeneuve behind the camera is nothing but good news to me as well.

ME:4 Jaal and Peebee

I really like these 2 pals.  They are opposite ends of the spectrum, but both are incredibly naive when it comes to the world around them.  Makes for some interesting dialogue, where is has nothing to do with the game.  Plus, their combat abilities are pretty solid.  I’ve not really found a reason to swap for anyone else.  Some spoilers below, but they are minimal.

Jaal

I finished up Jaal’s personal quest, a small sub-zone in Havarl.  The concept is that there’s a leader of an anti-alien group (Roekar) and Jaal’s family has been indoctrinated.  That last part happens off screen, and you get an update that lasts about 15 seconds.  There’s a final standoff at the end, and you make a choice.  I was doing something else at the time, and there was one of those quick-input options that popped up.  By not selecting it, things turned out much different than I had expected.

(as a side, it would seem that nearly all those decision points provide better results if you don’t do anything.)

The combat in that section was against low level enemies, or rather, I ended up clearing it all in half the effort of “open world” combat.  The story ended exactly like I thought it would, which was disappointing.  Felt like another opportunity that was missed, on a much larger subject.

Did I mention that the majority of this quest’s progress is unlocked through emails?

Peebee

More bugs.  This time on Havarl.  There’s even a few posts on it as well.  I ended up moving on through the quest, but a portion will be stuck in my log forever it seems.  There’s something wrong with the pacing of this particular quest line, I think.  The game introduces the heel early enough, then tries to shoehorn another bad guy (that’s only in datapads), then it turns out to be the original bad guy after all.  She all but says “I am Peebee’s rival” the first time you meet her too.

I really like Peebee’s thinking in this line though, and her dialogue is solid.  Clear that she has goals, and what they mean to her.  It’s just too bad that the quest is supported through “fetch quests” and a poorly executed storyline.

Liam

I had mentioned I had completed his quest line.  I don’t understand his character at all, or his motivations.  He has a lot of police/threat training and makes absolutely horrendous decisions that put people’s lives at risk, with no real plans to help them out.  I’m sure if they had unfrozen the cook he would have been smarter.

That said, his last mission was pretty neat in the mechanics and overall story.  Felt like a Lethal Weapon movie to be honest.

Forward and Back

It seems like for every neat item, there’s an equally dumb item behind it.  The more annoying part is the inconsistency of these two things.  Sometimes it’s the writing, sometimes the delivery, sometimes the quest structure…

Good golly there is so much potential in this game.  All the pieces are there.  It just feels like the overall producer took a long lunch at the tail end and let the peons make the calls.  I cannot recall the last time I was left so confused by a game.

So Much Rain…

We opened our cottage this weekend.  Hoping to get a couple days without rain (5/7 now, over the past 3 weeks) in order to stain the deck.  We got through Saturday, but Sunday was a downpour.  Fingers crossed the stain stuck!

I also spent over 2 hours getting the water pump to work.  Hunched over under the cottage.  In the cold.  I had eliminated everything I could over that time and was left with one option – the foot valve.  That’s the bit that hangs at the end of the line, deep in the water.  The water that was ice last week.  Sure enough, the valve was the culprit and 10 minutes later we had water.  We expected an up and down, but it turns out after 8 hours of work, we were burnt.  A good night’s rest at the cottage is something I had forgotten I missed.  I am looking forward to the next run up.

Mass Effect 4

Not a whole lot of time for this, though I’ve now completed Eos, Voeld, Havarl, and Kadara (missing an outpost).  I’ve crafted a super level 5 sniper rifle.  I’ve unlocked Liam’s final skill.  I guess that’s a fair chunk?  75%?  Anyhow, the game still has some interesting bits mixed with some not so interesting.  On PS4, I’ve encountered a half-dozen game breaking bugs – either falling in the world, the game freezing, random teleports, and some of those weird animations.  The most obvious one is that the Nomad (the car) frequently stutters in it’s movement (every 2 minutes or so) and loses sound (every 15 minutes).  The frequency of these last 2 makes me question the effectiveness of QA testing, in particular given that I spend so much time in that car.

I mentioned before the busy work. Given that the main quests have narrowed down, I’m chocked full of side quests/tasks.  I had about a dozen or so to clear out on the Nexus.  One of them ended with “go check your email on your ship”.  I have a holographic gizmo that can turn into a sword, but I have to go to a specific physical location, and email?  There’s also a lot of “go to this planet, and then this one, but only spend enough time there that the loading screens are longer”.  Ugh.  I feel like a ping pong ball, always being hit from one end to the other.  The talking bits are good, but the combat/explore portions are horrible repeats of existing gameplay.  Liam’s last quest was in a unique zone, so that was good.  Hoping the others are the same.

The upside is that the individual quest stories are interesting.  There’s one that deals with an anti-AI faction, which could have been a neat exploration of what being human means.  You fake losing your own AI (SAM), and track them down.  They are planning some EMP attack on the main Nexus, so you track those down.  The final scene has you asking 1 question, then ordering a sniper hit in a cutscene.  I am disappoint.  So much potential!

It’s that potential that keeps me coming back.  Like pulp fiction… if you look beyond the rough edges, there’s some good stuff to find.

Gloomhaven

Plain and simple, I put down some cash on Kickstarter for it.  I am usually against these types of services, but in this particular case, it’s a re-print.  The risk here is that the printing factory goes down in flames and shipping gets delayed.  I  can live with that.  You can take a look at a game review on Ars Technica.  I really love coop games, and one without dice sounds quite interesting.

Kickstart (and similar services) are a great space for board games.  I picked up Shadows of Brimstome, Galaxy Defenders and a few others in the past couple years.  The neat thing about boardgames is that the money is near entirely related to production costs, not development costs.  The game has already been tested and refined ad-nauseum with simple stand-ins, like any true D&D player would do.  Compared to PC games, where the development costs far outweigh production.

Space Wizards

Cause that’s what ME gives you.

It could be rose-colored glasses, but Biotics used to be more powerful than what I’ve seen in ME:A so far.  All the way back to KOTOR, force powers were a great way to take out massive groups of enemies, assuming you had the points invested.  Sure, the melee super saber strikes ended up killing even the Tarentareks in a couple of rounds, but force powers were more fun.

Right now, I’m finding that there are only 2 useful powers – pull and throw.  If they are unshielded/unarmored, then that combo kills anything.  Full biotics usually means “tissue for armor”, so the melee-ranged skills aren’t much use.  That leaves Singularity or Lance as options.  The first is a remake of the black hole skill that sucks people in, and the latter is a bolt of ranged damage.  None of the skills have much effect on shields.

So what ends up happening is that my space wizard uses Singularity on the first set of enemies, to set up a wall of sorts.  Weak enemies get snared, and I throw in something to blow them up.  A separate Pull is used on the enemies outside of range.  It’s a solid build for clearing trash.  That leaves the big guys.

And the only thing that works on those buggers appears to be guns, and companion skills.

Not all companions seem to be built equally. Their weapons don’t see to have much effect, at least not compared to mine.  Their skills though, woo.  Some of them seem like steroid users with the punch packed.  Drack is something.  Jaal too.  I’m a little disappointed that I can only have them focus on a target, rather than select from a skill profile, or prioritize the skill usage.  If I just let them go without direction, then things can go sideways.  If they focus, then things seem to work out well enough.

Anyways, back to space wizards.  On console I only have 3 skills that I can slot for use, and while useful, they seem somewhat limited as compared to other profiles.  Maybe I’ll respec into an Infiltrator with a robot pet…I’m using sniper rifles anyways.

More Effect

I think I’ve found my core issue with Mass Effect, its the underlying design decision of an open world.  Rowan Kaiser hits a few of those notes.  It’s the main reason I stopped playing Inquisition after 4 hours, even though I have over 200 hours logged into DA:Origins.

My appreciation for BioWare relates to contained stories, and the interactions between them.  They play like chapters of a book, with focused direction.  What ME4 gives me is a directionless world with bits and pieces that don’t fit into a larger story.  It gives me a home base (with loading screens), and more missions on more planets than I actually care to bother with.  I just completed a bunch of missions on the Nexus, only to get an email, head to Eos, then have to go back to the Nexus.  Really?

The quests themselves have a decent set of lore to back them up, but they are poorly executed.  Ooh, I get to fill up medit kits around the map.  Or get to decode another glyph for Peebee and kill 5 remnant robots.  Both requiring that I cross large swaths of empty land to get there.  It’s the order in which I acquire these bits that annoys me, just a lack of focus.  It feels like busywork, rather than actually accomplishing something.  I’m the damn Pathfinder, supposed to lead us to greater worlds.  Why am I stocking boxes with bandaids?

I really liked the rescue mission on Voeld.  Contained, logical, pressure.  Interesting characters and developments.  Even the follow up that had the audio logs for exaltation was neat.  But then that ended with “PAUSED: discover more Kett data”.  Ugh.  Why?

Now, I love me some open world games.  Where you can do pretty much what you want, when you want.  But in each of those, there are 2 pieces.  The story has minimal bearing on it, or the game supports emergent gameplay.  Shadow of Mordor, Horizon, Skyrim, Fallout, Far Cry… they work in that setting.   Then there are games where the open world is just a mess of icons – pretty much any Ubisoft game in the past 5 years.

ME4 feels like a game that is less than the sum of its parts.  There are certain items that are really quite impressive.  The art, the companion personalities, the basic lore.  That works and makes me want to be invested.  The execution is annoying, moreso because I know that BioWare used to do such a good job at it.  A seriously good job.

I have a feeling that DLC for ME4 is going to be solid, exactly because it will be focused on a given story, and ignore the rest of the open world.