This is my personal blog site where I write about a variety of topics that interest me, mostly gaming (online, video and boardgames) and anime. I try to post every Tuesday. What this is, is some placeholder text for Google+. This is more placeholder text. I'm not sure how much I need to put here. This sure is boring. I wish I knew why this worked. It shouldn't. It sure is CONFUSING!
[::.WISH LIST.::]
If you are not on Google+, I strongly reccomend it. Most of my future updates will be there as Eric Penn.
You are a fucking cunt
What ever happened to integrity?
I don't see it on MTV.
All I see is choreography
and I'll never be a dancer!
--"Spokesman", Goldfinger
Life just sucks, I lost the one
I'm giving up, she found someone
There's plenty more
Girls are such a drag
Fuck this place, I lost the war
I hate you all, your mom's a whore
Where's my dog?
'Cause girls are such a drag
--"Dysentary Gary", Blink 182
This island is big enough
for every cast away,
But most of us are looking
for someone else to blame.
--"Scapegoat", Chumbawamba
Sometimes we get what we deserve, and sometimes we don't get what we deserve. Somehow, we always get what we need.
Frodo: I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
--"The Lord of the Rings", J.R.R. Tolkien
Have you nothing of your own?
Nothing that is not:
by others?
"Comes The Inquisitor", Babylon 5
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear
Old Race Reports
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More than you wanted to know
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Pd world.jpg
Olli Olli Oxenfree!

I saw an advertisement for Oxenfree several months ago, and really thought it looked like a really cool concept. I wasn’t completely sure what kind of game it was at the time, but I knew I wanted to play it. When it finally released on the PS4, I bought it on launch day. It sat in my queue for a while, but I finally finished it. And, wow, this is a really good game. Not a “great” game – it does have some serious flaws - but it’s still very entertaining and I’m glad I played it.

The basic premise is that you play Alex, a blue-haired high-schooler, who, along with some of her classmates, are going to illegally camp out at a local tourist trap. That happens to be a deserted (and haunted) island, complete with a spooky old mansion, WWII backstory, ghosts of fallen soldiers and… oh, yeah, it’s a time-travel story too.


The gameplay is kind of unique. In a nutshell, you “walk” around the map and have conversations with the other characters. There are the odd interactions with the environment, but the meat of the game is in the conversation engine. While conversations are going on, you will often be given two or three options of what to say. The really interesting part of that is that you can NOT select any of them and the conversation will continue. So, there is always the option of not responding.

All of the conversations happen in real time. The bad part of this is that if you are a slow reader, or have social anxiety, or are not a good conversationalist in Real Life, you will likely find yourself left out of many of the in-game conversations as well. The whole thing operates in real-time, so if you are not quick on the draw you’ll be left out. There is very rarely a moment where the other character’s chatter stops and waits for you to respond. It is more akin to being around several people talking in Real Life – if you say nothing, someone else will keep the conversation going, usually without a pause.

The net result of this is that, until I got accustomed to not waiting for a pause in the conversation and just saying something, it often felt like I was interrupting the other characters. And I kinda was. At first. Once I’d settled into the rhythm of the game, it started to feel much more natural. Some people might not get past that, and it would likely detract from their gameplay. The player who stays silent will miss out on a lot of opportunities to learn about the backstories of the different characters and how they might react in different situations. Also, the choices you make (or don’t make, depending on how assertive you are with the conversation engine) do, in fact, come back to haunt you as you play through the game. After about an hour of playing (and settling into the pace of the game), I was able to identify with Alex much better. I started to think, “What would I do/say in this situation?” And that really helped set the mood of the game for me.

In the opening scene, we meet Alex and her best friend Ren, who, along with Alex’s new step-brother, are on a ferry boat to Edwards Island. As the game progresses, we meet Carissa (the girlfriend of Alex’s recently deceased brother Micheal) and Nona (with whom Ren has a crush). That’s the sum total of all of the living characters. The story doesn’t really get going until Alex tunes her pocket radio to a radio station that doesn’t exist and more-or-less opens a hole between two universes. Yeah, it really starts getting crazy after that.

The puzzles in the game were not terribly difficult, and served more to advance the story. Sometimes, a puzzle will be easier (or harder) depending on a conversation choice you had made much, much earlier in the game. Sometimes a supporting character will pipe up about some factoid that you had mentioned (literally hours) previously and that will solve a puzzle or open up advancement in the game. I can’t stress how much effect the conversation engine has on gameplay here!

Having said that, there were a couple of times where things took me completely out of the game. There were a couple of puzzles where my poor vision didn’t notice the microscopic switch or button that I needed to press to advance, and the character “trapped” with me would “helpfully” spout off the same line or two of “hint” dialogue. Over and over and over. After about the sixth or seventh time hearing the same character say the same thing (which I already knew because I’m not a moron… plus I heard them say it the first three times!) I got a little annoyed.

Another issue that failed for me was a couple of the conversation options appeared in mirrored fashion. In other words, I had to select LEFT to choose the RIGHT option. These conversation options occurred when Alex was talking to a reflection in a mirror, so it made sense thematically, but those conversations had a VERY short timeout. The first time I encountered one of these I missed the chance to pick anything because the game moved on before I selected; subsequently I ended up picking the exact opposite of what I intended because the time pressure on me and the reverse controls. I don’t think I ever got one of those “right”.

Speaking of “right”, the options given during conversations are very rarely obvious choices. Often you’ll have three options that say essentially the same thing, with the only difference being how it is articulated. But, just like in Real Life, often HOW you say something is just as important as what you are saying. And, as mentioned previously, these choices can sometimes make a large difference later in the game.

The story is a pretty compelling one. You really don’t know what’s going on for a long time, and once you start to figure it out, the game throws in a curveball or two. Without spoiling anything, there are a few sequences that the game forces you to complete several times, with slight alterations each time you repeat that scene. And each time you repeat it, you learn more about the storyline. And this is where those tiny differences in conversation can make a huge difference. Repeating a scene with someone who you’ve set on edge or made a disparaging remark towards earlier in the game can really make things difficult.

I will say this, the story is probably one of the most frightening game stories I have ever played through. I’ve played a few “scary” games in the past – I’ve completed the P.T. demo, I played Soma straight through, I enjoyed the shooter F.E.A.R. when it came out, and I’ve even played part of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but I got bored about 1/3 of the way in – and Oxenfree was the first time I’ve actually started to dread advancing the story because it was so disturbing. There are no jump-scares here - or, at least, no notable ones. Personally, I don’t find jump-scares to be “scary” at all. Yes, they are startling and they can make me jump – which is kind of the point – but while playing a game that has a lot of jump-scares, I’ve never felt any worry of concern about the next jump. This game is scary in the same way that creepy clowns are scary. The kind of disturbing mental scary that you can’t quite put a finger on, and makes you a little hesitant to progress because you’re not feeling super confident about that you might learn or find.

Much like a Telltale game, the overarcing story is mostly immutable, and the actions that player takes (and the order in which you do things) really won’t change the Big Picture storyline. However, unlike a Telltale game, because you are an active participant in most of the in-game conversations, it feels as if you are having a much more direct and immediate effect on the story (even if you aren’t really). However, unlike Telltale’s games, there are seven completely different ways for this one to end, ranging from saving a character that was previously dead to completely obliterating a character from existence (remember: there is a time-travel element here!) Pretty much all of the other options are much less extreme that those, but (assuming you can develop even a slight emotional connection with the characters) have some pretty dramatic effects. For myself, I was able to accomplish the goal that I had set for myself early on in the game (and was awarded a PSN trophy for doing it).

Overall, there are a lot worse games you could play this year. I don’t expect this one to be winning any Game of the Year awards, but it’s a great buy and a lot of fun to play. It’s out on the PC via steam, PS4 and XBone.

- Stupid @ Wednesday, August 10, 2016 4:48 PM PT [+]

Pokemon GO
I started writing this post four weeks ago. In that time period, Pokemon GO has gone from a fun concept, to a social phenomenon, to possibly the most successful mobile game in history, and in the last 48-hours, has become the most-hated product on the internet.

Unless you’ve been comatose or trapped in an underground facility for the last three weeks, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Pokemon GO, the “new” game from Niantic Labs and The Pokemon Company. (I put “new” in quotes because the game borrows pretty heavily form Niantic Labs’ prior game Ingess.)

When the game came out four weeks ago, it was an instant, overnight smash success. The kind of success that no one expects. The kind of success that is literally the stuff that hedge fund managers dream about. Nintendo stock more than doubled in value overnight – which was actually kind of funny, since Nintendo doesn’t actually own any part of the game and isn’t involved in its production. In fact, Nintendo only owns about 1/3 of The Pokemon Company. And even better, since Niantic is the actual creator of the game, The Pokemon Company is only entitled to a flat-fee licensing agreement – they likely aren’t getting a percentage of the profits at all! So when all is said and done, the overall effect of this overnight success on Nintendo’s profitability will be pretty close to zero.

Within a week of release, the game was the most downloaded smartphone app of all time!! It passed Candy Crush in popularity; it passed Tinder (admittedly not a game, but still very popular); and it even surpassed Twitter. While we don’t have access to the exact numbers, it has been reported that Niantic Labs has seen about $2M per day in microtransaction profit from Pokemon GO!

The game is mostly free-to-play, just like Ingess. You get gear (pokeballs, healing sprays, revive gems, etc.) from Pokestops. You capture Pokemon in the wild. But there are certain specific “freemium” items that the game includes that are only given out in extremely limited quantities, mostly only to educate the player of their existence. Aside from the one or two freebies, those items are only available from the in-app cash-shop. And true to F2P form, the cash shop uses a special in-game currency that you need to buy with actual real money and the more you buy the less each Pokecoin costs. For example, you can buy 100 coins for $0.99 (about one cent per coin), but if you pony up $99 you get 14,500 coins (about .68 cents per coin).

As you walk around in the real world, various Pokemon will randomly appear and you “throw” pokeballs at them to catch them. It’s basically the old Paper Toss game. As you progress in the game, catching these “wild” Pokemon becomes more difficult (but they become more powerful as a reward). Obviously, you need pokeballs to do this. Luckily, you can get anywhere from three to six pokeballs every time you “spin” a pokestop. Unless you live in a rural area, pokestops are common enough that you should never run out. In my town, I can take a half-hour walk at lunch and gather between 75 and 150 pokeballs.

The other way to get new Pokemon is to “hatch” them from eggs. One of the many potential rewards from pokestops is eggs. Each player is given one “infinite” incubator. You put an egg in the incubator (or, as we refer to it here “on the cooker”) and then you walk. The game client tracks your mobility using the GPS. As long as you are walking less than 5MPH, the distance you move used to advance the incubator. Eggs come in three flavors, all based on distance needed to hatch them: 2km, 5km, or 10km. The “bigger” eggs take a longer distance hatch into more powerful pokemon.

And then there’s “hunting”… which is the cause of all of the recent whinging. Hunting for Pokemon involves a part of the game called the “tracker”. The tracker, in prior incarnations, would list the nine closest Pokemon to the player and displayed them in a ranked grid, where the closest Pokemon was in the upper right and the furthest one was in the lower left. One very early version of the tracker actually listed the distances to the Pokemon in 20 meter increments; a later version showed the distance based on a cold/medium/warm/hot scale, where Pokemon that were far away were shown with three footprints under their image, Pokemon that were a moderate distance away had two footsteps, nearby Pokemon would have one footstep and Pokemon that were in the immediate vicinity showed with no footsteps at all. By using this tool, players could move around in the world, and more-or-less triangulate towards (and hopefully capture) specific Pokemon or Pokemon types.

Sadly, about a week after release, the tracker stopped functioning. (The reason why is still hotly debated on the internet, but no one really know for sure why it was done, or if was accidental or intentional.) Everything on the tracker showed as being “three steps” away, giving this situation the nom-de-plume the Three Step Bug. As a result, some third-party applications became popular. Most notably was the web-accessible online tool called PokeVision. This basically was an overlay onto google maps that showed the exact locations of all Pokemon in any area of the world, including de-spawn timers. One could zoom to an area, click on the map and see exactly where everything was. This, unfortunately, was completely against the spirit of the game. “Hunting” became a matter of clicking on a amp, finding out what was there and then driving to the exact location and capturing it.

Over this last weekend, Niantic finally shut down these third-party tools. They also removed any distance marking from the tracker completely, making it appear as if all Pokemon were some indefinite distance away from the player. But despite all the gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair, this really didn’t change the existing (broken) behavior of the tracker. Whether it is three-steps or no-steps, the same Pokemon are listed and they're listed in the same order. So, really, nothing has changed. Despite this, the internet has lost its collective mind and is decrying this change as if it were the coming of the apocolypse.

Which brings me to the first type of player of the game: the Collector. The Collector's main goal in the game is to "catch them all". There are 151 different Pokemon types in the game presently. A dozen or so of these are so common thta everyone will have them within the first hour of playing. Many others are uncommon, but not terribly rare. Those account for about another 75-ish. Beyond that, there are the rare Pokemon that pop up occasionally, maybe another 25 or so. The last 50 are only obtainable by hunting specifically for them, breeding them from eggs, or evolving them from lower Pokemon.

The Collector types were the most impacted by the recent brouhaha. Without any way to hunt the specific Pokemon they need to fill out their pokedex, this type of player really has no reason to play. For better or worse, these players really have no long-term effect on the overall health of the game. Once they filled their pokedex with all 151 entries - whether legitimately, or by "cheating" - they were destined to quit the game. For this type of player, the whole game revolves around "catching them all", but once you accomplish that, there's no more game to be had. You've "won" and can stop playing.

The thing is, the game actually has a lot more to it than just hunting Pokemon and collecting them all. In fact, there's a lot more. The mid-level game revolves around capturing and holding capturable points called 'Gyms'.

Gyms started out neutral. (I'd be very surprised if any neutral gyms still remain after 4 weeks of play, but let's start there for the sake of discussion.) Any player can put one of their Pokemon into a neutral gym. This 'claims' the Gym for their team. There are three teams: the red Team Valor, the blue Team Mystic, and the yellow Team Instinct. From there, the player would fight thier own (friendly) Gym. If they defeat the Gym, the Gym gains 'reputation'. Once it gains enough reputation, it 'levels up'. At each level, another Pokemon can be added to the Gym, but each player can only place one at each Gym. This means that in order to really power up a Gym requires multiple players on the same team. As of this writing, the maximum level for a Gym is Level 10, taking ten unique players on the same team to populate.

If a player discovers a Gym that is held by an opposing team, they can 'battle' it using six of their Pokemon. They need to defeat all of the defending Pokemon, in order, from weakest to strongest. If they defeat them all, the Gym loses reputation. If it loses too much, it will go down a level, kicking the weakest Pokemon off the Gym. When the reputation reaches zero, the Gym reverts to neutral and can be captured by any player. Each battle won might reduce the reputation by a few thousand points. Considering that a Level 6 Gym has over 30,000 reputation, it takes quite a few battles to 'flip' a Gym. It isn't a simple task.

Gym battles are the reason that the game asks players to collect Pokemon. Collecting Pokemon isn't the goal in of itself, it is a means to attack and defend Gyms. Sadly, most players don't know, or don't care to know, how Gyms work. They assume that they only need to battle a Gym once to defeat it, and when that doesn't happen, they give up in frustration. They don't understand that you need to "fight" friendly Gyms to level them up and never do so. And then they are frustrated when they can't add a new Pokemon to a friendly Gym because it is too low level. They don't understand that they get credit for holding a Gym even if they are the lowest ranked Pokemon on that Gym.

Gyms and the Gym systems appeal to the second type of player: The Fighter. These type of players are going to obsess about having a Pokemon on the largest number of Gyms possible. And since holding on to a Gym (or capturing enemy Gyms) means that they need a veritable army of powerful Pokemon, they're going to be out capturing as many as they can and powering them up to higher levels, discovering and recording the hidden 'individual values' for each of their Pokemon, and researching which Pokemon are strong against other specific defenders.

The third type of player are the Achievers. See, just like in any other MMO, everything a player does in Pokemon GO grants experience. Get enough experience and your character levels up. Capture a Pokemon, get 100 exp. Capture a Gym, get 500 exp. Beat a Gym in training mode or in a battle, maybe you'll get 1000 exp. Evolve a low level Pokemon into a later form, get 500 exp. The leveling curve is pretty gentle for the first 20 levels, and then it gets crazy. The amount of experience required to go from a brand new level 1 all the way to level 20 is less than the amount of experience required to go from level 20 to level 23. So, it's a tough road to walk. However, there are a lot of players who have made it their primary goal to make it to the level cap of Level 40.

The time sink of gaining so much experience is pretty daunting. Luckily for this type of player, the game has a cash shop item called as Lucky Egg. Using one of these will give the player a 30 minute buff that doubles their exp gains, turning those hundreds of exp into thousands. But it still requires over 23million exp to hit the cap, so this is a significant time investment.

While the Achievers will have a larger footprint on the game than the Collectors do - mostly because of the amount of time required to get to the level cap, and that actually playing the end-game grants additional exp - these players also won't have a long-lasting effect on the game. Oh, they'll have more effect then the Collectors (who will be playing their own game and not really interacting with anyone else). Achievers will still be playing the Gym game and making life miserable for the lower level players in their area (which is likely to be almost everyone). But, just like the Collectors, when they hit their goal of reaching the level cap, they're done with the game. They've "won" and there is no more reason to play.

Overall, Pokemon Go is a really fun game. The early-game Collecting loop is exceptionally compelling (tracking issues aside), the mid-game Achieving loop provides a lot of fun watching numbers get bigger, and the end-game, while still immature, provides a unique challenge for long-range planning. I've been playing for four weeks and I am still having as much fun now as I did when the game was released. Sadly, far too many ex-players might say that they "used to play the game but it sucks now", without even knowing or understanding why.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, August 2, 2016 9:08 PM PT [+]

The Order: 1886

I originally thought that this game was supposed to be a launch title for the PS4. Apparently it was delayed a bit, coming out over a year later. Upon release it quickly garnered a lot of extremely negative buzz. The game was too short; there wasn’t enough interactivity; there weren’t enough branching options… it was pretty hard to find anyone who actually liked the game, much less a positive review of it.

But in a way, all of that negative had a positive effect. Several retailers had banked on the game being a high-volume seller, and so when it tanked, they had a ton of overstock. As a result, the price plummeted and I was able to pick up a brand new physical copy of the game for $10. (The digital version of the game is often hitting the $6 mark on PSN.)

I have got to say, for all of the negative buzz this game got, it’s actually a pretty fun game! True, it’s not a hundred-plus hour slog through some writing team’s magnum opus… but not every game needs to be. I’ve certainly played shorter games that cost me far more. The Last of Us, a game generally recognized as Game of the Year for 2013 (and then again in 2014 for the Remastered version) barely climbs over the 20-hour length. Pretty much anything produced by Telltale is going to be in the 5-10 hour range, and no one is complaining about that! The length of this game is long enough to become invested in the characters, and that’s really all that matters.

There is another argument that this is actually just a long cinematic experience and not actually a game at all. And there is some truth to that. There are a lot of cutscenes in the game. But there aren’t any more cutscenes here than there are in any of the Uncharted games. It never felt like I was “mostly” watching the game and not playing it. There was really only one sequence where the cutscene was jarring. I had finished a medium difficulty fight, and was moving on past that area when a cutscene triggered and yanked me BACK into that same area. That was immersion breaking and detracted from the experience. Aside from that, the cutscenes did a decent job of presenting the story and developing other characters. Having said that, that same information probably could have been presented differently through gameplay, without resorting to pre-rendered cutscenes where the player had no control.

One place where the game really shines, though, is in the graphical presentation. This is one GORGEOUS game!! The engine that was developed for this thing is simply amazing. It’s a dialog heavy game and the lip flap of the character models actuyally looked like they were talking. In the early part of the game I would get as close as possible to the ambient non-players and just watch them talk. When I was running through this game, I had just finished playing Life is Strange and one of my biggest quibbles with that game was that the graphical presentation often did not live up to the amazing storytelling. I kept imagining how amazing that game would have been with this games’ graphical engine!! Not only was the character modeling and engine extremely well done, even simple stuff like the background textures and the modeling of the ambient background characters was amazing. Clothing that fluttered in the wind when you ran was not just pre-rendered flapping, it actually dynamically changed based on direction and velocity. The visuals here really feel like a high production value movie with period costumes and incredible set design.

Of course, while the levels looked and felt amazing, a common complaint of the game is that they were very linear and only allowed the character to progress in one way. That’s mostly true, but that’s also true in most other adventure type games as well. If you look at well-received games like the Uncharted series, or any one of the long running Tomb Raider series of games, or even the Bioshock games – all of those games had tight, directed, and constrained level design as well. So, while the level design was fairly linear, it wasn’t obtrusively so and no more linear than other games of this same type.

The one complaint that I didn’t hear prior to playing this game (and turned out to be my biggest problem with it) was with the difficulty scaling and game pacing. In a well-designed game, the difficulty starts out pretty low and gradually ramps up as you progress. Ostensibly, the player is getting “better” at the game as they play, so as the difficulty increases, the player is better equipped to deal with it. This makes the player feel like a bad-ass since they are taking on fights in the late-game that would have been impossible – or at least extremely difficult – for them to win in the early portions of the game. The problem is, that the difficulty ramp in this game is extremely uneven. There are some throwaway fights in the middle of the game that are brutally hard, and some of the (supposed) “boss” fights are pitifully easy.

The most telling example of this is the next-to-last fight in that game. In this fight, you are solo against about 30 enemies, some of which take multiple hits to down. Meanwhile, several of them have weapons that will strip off 2/3 of your health in a single hit. It is a do-able fight, but it requires that the player have perfect aim, be positioned in just the right place, and know exactly when they can reload between shots. Up to that point, the game was mostly a cover-based strategic shooter, but that penultimate fight was seemingly designed for a run-and-gun playstyle. And then, once past that, the actual game-ending boss-fight was pitifully easy, requiring only five well-timed button presses.

Personally, I would have preferred the boss-fighting sequences to be much much harder. They never felt “epic” to me. Especially since those fights were mostly presented in a quick-time cutscene style. It almost felt like the developers had put together a semi-interactive brawler game, then decided to change to a cover-based strategic shooter style game, but felt like they HAD to use the brawler portions somewhere. The “big” fights really felt out of place with the rest of the gameplay!

Maybe I’m looking at it differently than people who paid $50 for it, but overall, I enjoyed the game. It certainly had some rough spots and I wouldn’t say that it was ever in the running for Game of the Year, but it certainly is a lot better than many other games. Heck, despite its flaws, it’s better than probably half of the full-price stuff coming out this year, let alone in last year! If you’ve got 10 hours to burn and can afford what amounts to one ticket to a movie, you could do a lot worse than to try this one out. And who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, June 28, 2016 7:05 PM PT [+]

Your Lie in April

This is the last anime review I’m going to do for a while. Black Desert Online really took a LOT of my time to get through and pretty much killed my momentum for both playing games and writing. It was an all-consuming time-sink for a few months, and I used anime to pull myself out of that funk. What this means is that starting next week, I’m going to be talking about games again. I’m sure you’re overjoyed.

I started watching Your Lie in April based on the recommendation of Tristan “Arkada” Gallant, who runs a user-supported YouTube anime review channel called Glass Reflections. He gave it a “blind suggestion” in the beginning of this year. Meaning that he hadn’t actually watched it yet, but was still giving it a tentative “you should watch this” review. (Note that he has since done a complete review, which I had not seen at the time of this writing.) Also, Netflix was pushing this one into my face as a recommendation too. Although that last time I listened to Netflix recommendations, I got Aldnoah.Zero… so I was a mostly going off Tristan’s non-review.

I am SO GLAD that I spent the time with this show!! I’ll tell you right up front that this show was both amazing to watch, and at the same time brutal to watch. It fall firmly into the “slice of life” anime category. There isn’t a Bad Guy that the heroes are struggling to overcome and there isn’t a challenge that the world is presenting to the protagonists. It’s simply one year in the life of one young man and his friends. But, oh my! What a year!

The show pretty much revolves around the main protagonist, a teenage classical piano prodigy. Some people might be turned off by the subject matter, but rest assured, while the show does feature classical music, it is more of a character in the show rather than the focus of the show. I, personally, find music to be pointless; I’ve never gotten a tune stuck in my head, and I don’t hum to myself during downtime. Music, to me, is just a series of sounds with zero emotional impact. So while the concepts of music runs rampant in this show, the music itself is never presented as something that is more than something that the characters are doing. Even when the show is holding a concert, the music is never center stage, it’s just a thing that is going on, in, around and with the characters.

What the show is about is Life. It’s about Love. It’s about Loss. It’s about Acceptance. These are all very deep and philosophical issues and they are presented with care and respect. The emotional impact of this show is pretty significant. Sometimes when I’m watching an anime that I really enjoy, I’ll binge watch it, only to stop when I look up and see that it’s very late and I have to get up for work in only a few hours. For this show, there were several points times during the season that I simply couldn’t watch another episode. Instead of hitting the “next episode” button, I would watch the entire closing credits and then sit quietly for a few minutes to digest what I’d just seen. In a word, this show is Heavy.

I just happened to watch the next-to-last episode while my Lovely Partner was in the same room. She’s not a big fan of anime, and was only half-paying attention to the show, but at one point when the show dropped another one of its (many) emotional bombs, she actually looked up and said “Oh…. Ouch.” This show will almost definitely hit you in the feels. No punches are pulled here.

It’s not all bad news though. Even though the show features a massive dose of heartbreak, it also heaps on a generous supply of hope and happiness, joy and beauty, and love and understanding. This show is a veritable mélange of emotions and it will resonate with nearly every viewer.

The story revolves around a young man who has lost his taste for life, and then rediscovers it suddenly and unexpectedly. Not once while watching the show was there a sudden unexpected plot twist. That’s not to say that events were predictable. Instead, the events that transpire are meaningful and impactful, but always logical and presented in a way that the viewer is never surprised or taken aback. The intent of the show is to make the viewer FEEL, not to dazzle or amaze them!

The characters in the show are complex, and well-developed. There are no cardboard cutouts here. Even the throwaway background characters are interesting. For example, one of the judges during a competition is literally on-screen for less than two minutes, and yet, in his three or four lines, we are shown a person that is not only thinking but that is willing to consider and accept that the world might not be as black-and-white as one might imagine. This kind of detail is written into almost every character in the show, particularly the main characters. And rather than doing the typical anime “flashback” character backstory filler episodes, we learn about their lives and experiences as they relate to the other characters, without minutes of exposition or even getting off the main subject of the show. Essentially, you learn about these characters organically as you watch the show. This makes them feel a lot more ”real” than most anime characters.

The artwork is stunning. At first I was put off by the pastel-heavy color palette, but the art style fits this show perfectly. It almost feels like older western cell-shaded animation, before they cheapened up production values. The characters are not the skinny sticklike beings that are often seen in these shows, and are presented more realistically. In particular, the female characters are neither busty nor bouncy, but are drawn very conservatively and realistically. In one of the later episodes a female character is running away from the camera, while wearing a skirt. Rather than showing a bit of thigh or resorting to the ubiquitous panty-shot, we see a running girl wearing a skirt. And since there are many scene that feature a character playing a piano, the level of detail is impressive. It seems as if all of the people in this show actually have five articulated fingers on each hand!

The titular “lie” is not revealed until the final episode, and when the curtain is drawn back, it is not a gut-punching betrayal, but rather a simple white lie that, in retrospect, plays so well within the overall narrative that one can’t help but feel like it’s something you’ve known all along, but just weren’t really thinking about at the time. That is, if you’re the type of person that will skip to the end to see what the big secret is, you shouldn’t bother. It’s not really that big of a deal, even if it is the glue that holds the entire show together. In fact, had the show been called something else, and the “lie” never revealed, it wouldn’t change the impact of the show one single iota. In fact, the subject of the “lie” is only on-screen for only a few minutes at a time, and is completely absent from the majority of episodes.

Overall, this show was extremely difficult for me to get through. Despite being a single run of only 22 episodes, I spent nearly a month getting through this. The emotional impact of several episodes was so great that I simply had to take a few days to process it. This show really tore me up, but I had to come back for more. The telegraphed message of the final show is presented so well that you are left both in awe of it, while at the same time filled with a complete and utter sense of loss. When the final credits roll, you know that it is over.

I strongly recommend this show. If you’ve ever watched shows like Clannad or (to a lesser extent) Angel Beats and found them even the least bit touching or emotional, then this anime will kill you. Happy viewing!!

- Stupid @ Tuesday, June 21, 2016 9:42 PM PT [+]


So recently, I’ve been on an anime kick. I was looking for something new to watch and Netflix had recommended this show Aldnoah.Zero for me a few times. I sat down with my Lovely Partner to watch the first episode, and after the 22 minutes had run their course, I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t exactly looking for the next episode either.

But, see, here’s the thing. I’ve seen anime before. My rule-of-thumb is that any show gets a minimum of three episodes before I even start to think about calling it “good” or “bad”. Anime has a slow, slow burn and often times, something that you see in the first show won’t really play out until you are halfway (or sometimes more) through the entire first season. Usually the first few episodes are more-or-less world building and character introductions. (For a long-running show, there might be “filler” episodes where one or more characters get a complete detailed backstory reveal, but those are usually not until you’re seven to ten episodes in, and you’ve already established a connection with the character.)

So I gave it three episodes. And then I ended up watching the entire first and second season.

That might seem like an endorsement, but let me be up-front here. This is not a great anime. It’s decent enough for a rainy Sunday afternoon, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it. The characters are simplistic and one dimensional, the humor is quirky and misses the point more often than not, the fight scenes are predictable and when there is the occasional plot twist, you will more likely go “Yeah, I could see that” rather than “Whaa?!?” Pretty much the only thing that kept me going through the entire first season was the overarcing story.

Despite being fairly predictable and full of standard action tropes, the story was interesting. It kind of takes the standard “overpowered gundam-style mecha against a horde of dudes”, except in this case, the overpowered gundam-style mecha is in the hands of the Bad Guys and the horde of dudes that are getting destroyed are the Good Guys. The juxtaposition ends up highlighting the uselessness of war, and lends a feeling of pointlessness and depression to the entire situation.

But, true to the trope, everything always works out okay because even though the Bad Guys have gundams, the Good Guys have the main protagonist, a super-smart high-schooler who creatively figures out how to defeat each of the overpowered enemy mecha, one after another. Even when the Bad Guys finally get wise to this strategy and attack with three gundam at once, through the magical power of being the main character, a third party suddenly appears to provide just the right amount of assistance at just the right time and the Good Guys end up winning again.

The story is interesting, even it is mostly predictable. Up until the end of the first season, I kept watching mostly because I’m a completionist and I was mildly curious to see how it all resolved. So, when I got to the end of season one and (spoiler alert) Every. Single. Character. Dies.... Well, that kinda put the nail in the coffin, both literally and figuratively. And I’m not kidding about every character dying. Well, actually I am exaggerating a tiny bit. Only the five main characters die. It’s like a Mexican stand off and rather than everyone backing away looking nervous, they all pull the trigger and shoot each other in one giant mess.

After that disaster, I figured I was done with this show. It seemed like a clean break for both the viewer (me) and for the writers. It didn’t feel hastily done or unplanned. It honestly felt like this was the end-story that the writers had intended. I mean the entire show had been presented as a kind of “war is hell” diorama, and how better to really drive that point home than to have all of your main characters all murder each other?

But then I saw that Netflix had season two. And after thinking about it, and the aforementioned murder of pretty much everyone who had any real impact on the story, I got curious. So I watched the first show of season two. And, guess what?? Giant retcon!! Waitaminit, even though we shot one person in the head, another got shot in the eye, one was impaled and bled out, and one was riddled full of holes by a machine gun... miraculously everyone survived somehow and we’re back with our familiar characters! Plot twist, though: some of them turn out to be better/worse than they were in season one and their goals are now different (or the same)! Introduce a few new supporting characters and off we go again!!

Season two actually seemed a lot more watchable than season one. The story is still super-predictable and the characters are still as one-dimensional and narrowly defined as before, but since we were able to skip all of the initial world-building and introduction stuff, it got down to action right away. Rather than being a straight up rock-em-sock-em fight, the different characters started to get sneaky and dastardly. This allowed for a few more “twisty” plot twists - even if they are still telegraphed well in advance. It probably also helped that I started watching while drinking heavily. Despite that, even the better of the two seasons never really got above the “this still isn’t great” level. The fact that I define this as this show as what it -isn’t- instead of what it -is- speaks volumes.

In the end, the finale of season two almost made up for the 12+ hours I spent on the show. Almost. Just like the initial season, the end of season two offered complete closure to pretty much every main plot point and tied up the vast majority of the various sub-plots. In fact, it really felt like the writers were offing a nice easy “get off this train if you want” full stop. Unlike season one, the season two closer did not involve killing (or apparently killing, as it turned out) the entire cast. Instead, season two offers a hopeful, happy ending – just maybe not the one you were expecting.

Overall, the show falls firmly into the “not great” category. I could only recommend watching it if you have oodles of free time and need something to kill a dozen hours on. And be sure to pour a nice tall adult beverage beforehand. You’re going to need it. Otherwise, give this one a pass.

- Stupid @ Friday, June 17, 2016 2:56 PM PT [+]

Log Horizon

A few years back, I discovered the anime Sword Art Online. Before diving in, I read a few reviews on it, as I tend to do. Since my free time is so limited, I try to make sure that I’m not spending time on something that isn’t going to be enjoyable to me. I quickly discovered that people tended to either really really love SAO, or really really hate it. But, as a long-time MMO player I was intrigued by the whole concept of being “in” the game, for reals.

At first, I thought SAO was a really clever idea. But the more I watched it, the less I liked it. It was better than average up until the mid-season break at the end of episode 14 – after that, it introduced some “icky” stuff that I wasn’t completely comfortable with. Still, it was an anime so I watched it to the end. But I didn’t love it.

I bring up SAO in this because, for better or worse, it is the “gold standard” that most people use for the “trapped in a MMO” anime.

Enter Log Horizon.

This anime has the same basic premise as SAO, but it has some pretty significant differences. Differences that make for a completely different feel for the show, and ultimately correct most, if not all, of the “bad” stuff in SAO, and improve upon the premise. In fact, it would not be too far off to say that Log Horizon is so completely different that it completely breaks the “trapped in a game” formula.

Obviously, this is a show about a bunch of MMO gamers trapped in the game world. Unlike other shows that follow this formula, the first episode makes no attempt to explain the hows and whys of this process. There isn’t any software malfunction, or demonic summoning, or whatever other crazy ideas the writers can come up with to explain why a bunch of otherwise normal gamers are suddenly inside an MMO. No, in this case they actually come out and say “We don’t know what happened. One night we went to bed like normal and the next day we woke up here.” (Perhaps a later story arc will attempt to retcon this aspect of the show, but if they do, that would really be a shame and probably detract from the show. Hopefully, the writers are smart enough to know this.)

Once inside the game, the show takes a major departure from the typical “trapped in a game” premise. One that I, as a hardcore MMO player, felt was much closer to reality than other shows like SAO or the dot-hack franchises. I can’t speak for all gamers, but if I were trapped in a game, my first thought almost certainly is not going to be “How do I go home/log-out/escape?” Hell, I play these games because it’s FUN!! Getting “trapped” in a fun situation doesn’t sound like something I’d be really working very hard to escape. Even if you posit the “death game” rule of “if you die in the game, you die in real life”... so what? I’ve played MMOs before. In new games it is usually hours and hours (sometimes days) before I die for the very first time! Even then, it's usually because I got complacent about the challenges, or just plain outright tried something silly. If you told me that death was real, I’d just play a little bit more conservatively, or work on non-combat portions of the game. I mean, after all, not too many characters have died during crafting, or material gathering, or playing the auctionhouse/marketplace!

And this is one thing that Log Horizon nails perfectly. The characters aren’t trying to get out of the game and they aren’t obsessively working towards some escape goal. In fact, very early on, we are told that dying in this MMO has the same effect as dying in an actual MMO – you just respawn at the local safepoint. (There are some other more far-reaching issues with this game mechanic that are revealed later, but let’s ignore that for this discussion.)

In fact, the whole premise of the show never really sets up a “good guy vs bad guy” dynamic. That’s not to say that there aren’t some bad players in the game. It’s just that the main protagonist and his buddies aren’t working to defeat a single enemy, or to complete specific task, or even to develop a stated goal or ideal. The “enemy” is not really a thing or person, it’s more that they are trying to understand their new situation and how to deal with it. There are plenty of antagonists and personal challenges, but they are mostly faceless and more ephemeral. In a way, the concept of ignorance is the only real enemy here.

The main character in SAO was almost purely a wish-fulfillment role. The amazing (white, male) character that could do anything and accomplish anything, without any help; the guy who is so over-powered that he can single-handedly do what it takes an entire team of other people to do, and all without ever working hard to get there. He might be dark and broody and misunderstood, but when the rubber meets the road, he's going to win every time, because he's just that amazing. Meanwhile the ensemble cast of Log Horizon are shown to be individually powerful, but not overly so. Several of them die (and are revived as per the game rules), and many times the main hero has to run away from a fight. It is only when the different characters work together that they accomplish amazing things. The main character is kind of the “mastermind” of the whole thing and while it’s easy to envision one’s self in that role, it’s made clear at several points that he is working hard to maintain his abilities and role. He isn’t just slacking about most of the time, while somehow magically remaining super-powerful.

Because the show is more focused on learning about the player’s new situations and how they interact with the game world, the show avoids most of the common Anime tropes. The downside of this is that it is light on flashy action sequences. In fact, the fight scenes and flashy MMO-style spell effects are probably some of the most boring parts of the show. Where it really shines is in telling the story of these people and how they are adapting to their new reality. And every time they make a new discovery, it feels like you are discovering something alongside them. In that way, it feels more like playing a game that just watching a show about a game.

Overall, this show is one of my top anime. In fact, I’ve actually watched season one of this show from start to finish twice already and probably will circle back to watch it again at some point in the future. That’s highly unusual for me; I’ve only re-watched three anime in my entire life. The vast majority of shows, fun or not, simply aren’t worth the time investment to re-watch. I can usually tell if an anime is going to grab me when the theme song gets stuck in my head for days after I watch it. This one definitely makes the cut. I highly recommend it. It is available for streaming in all the usual places. (I only wish there was an English adaptation of the in-game menus!)

- Stupid @ Wednesday, June 15, 2016 3:35 PM PT [+]

I first saw this game in the Indie Zone at PAX Prime (now called PAX West), way back in 2013. I remember watching the scrolling trailer that was playing in the small booth, and being surrounded by other folks who were obviously disgusted with what they were seeing. The subject matter is deeply disturbing, showing scenes that are quite honestly terrifying. I remember standing next to a young man who commented on how uncomfortable watching the demo made him feel, to which I quipped, “Oh, it looks like just another Thursday to me!” Some free space appeared around me pretty quickly, as the PAX-goers suddenly felt a need to not be standing next to me. When I say this “game is terrifying” I mean that in a profound way; it doesn’t just rely on “jump-scares” to frighten the player (although there are a few). No, instead this game uses slow, deliberate pacing to draw the player in, to command their full and undivided attention, and then shows them something that is truly horrifying.

Wait.… Let’s back up a bit.

The game presentation is that of a hand-drawn Edward Gorey animation. In the very first (non-interactable) scene of the game, you witness a brutal stabbing murder. From context (and dialog), you learn that the murderer is you (the “protagonist” of the story) and the victim is your sister. “But,” you might protest, ”Why would I brutally stab my own sister? Even in a game, that makes no sense at all!” And you would be right to ask that. Luckily, within seconds, we learn that it was only a nightmare and you wake up from that horrible dream with a start and a gasp, quickly sitting up in bed.

And that’s where the game starts: in a gothic style bedroom, of what appears to be a Victorian-era mansion, complete with hand drawn paintings along the walls, striped wallpaper and wooden shutters on the windows.

As you start your journey through the game, the stylized artwork and visuals, coupled with the mood-inducing background music serve to draw you in. You may not be completely aware of your goals or motivations in the game (yet) and you are limited to a slow, plodding pace across each screen, giving you ample time to soak in the presentation and absorb every detail of the game. And then, through no fault of your own, you are suddenly and viciously attacked and you die….

Or do you?

With a gasp and a start, you quickly sit up in bed – a different bed, in a different room – and start again. But you’re not starting again. You’ve progressed somewhat, and both the graphical presentation of the background visuals and the music are subtly altered. It doesn’t take long for you to notice that you’re in a different place. The wallpaper is stained and dirty, the paintings on the walls are a bit askew, the furniture is worn.

As you start your journey through the game, the stylized artwork and visuals, coupled with the mood-inducing background music serve to draw you in. You may not be completely aware of your goals or motivations in the game (yet) and you are limited to a slow, plodding pace across each screen, giving you ample time to soak in the presentation and absorb every detail of the game. And then, through no fault of your own, you are suddenly and viciously attacked and you die….

Or do you?

With a gasp and a start, you quickly sit up in bed – a different bed, in a different room – and start again. But you’re not starting again. You’ve clearly in a different place now. This isn’t a bedroom, it’s a padded cell. You try the door and find that you’re in a mental asylum, complete with padded walls, uncomfortably primitive looking medical equipment, and lit by flickering gas lamps.

As you start your journey through the game, the stylized artwork and visuals, coupled with the mood-inducing background music serve to draw you in. You may not be completely aware of your goals or motivations in the game (yet) and you are limited to a slow, plodding pace across each screen, giving you ample time to soak in the presentation and absorb every detail of the game. And then, through no fault of your own, you are suddenly and viciously attacked and you die….

Or do you?

The atmosphere of the game is INCREDIBLY compelling and while the “looping” style nature of the storytelling may seem slow and annoying to some players, the deliberate pacing provide a stable backdrop for the occasional scenes of misery and torture that are presented. You were just trying to get to the kitchen for a glass of milk and then you’re… well, I’d prefer not to mention some of the misery that is inflicted upon the protagonist. More than once while playing I found myself aghast in dismay, and actually asking aloud, “ Why would he do that? Why would I do that?” The presentation of even the most awful and heinous events are presented in that same tasteful Edward Gorey stylized artwork and between the unsettling background music, the occasional background audio clips – which, in at least one case, used both the normal audio and the controller speaker in tandem to create a VERY unsettling effect – the game just DRIPS theme!

As you progress through the story, the background graphics will change to different locations and the music and background audio clips will adapt to the new setting. It is always presented in the same black-and-white (and bloody red!) hand drawn graphics, which lends a feeling of consistency throughout.

There are a few puzzle type situations in the game, but they are not terribly difficult to figure out. The puzzles fit very well with the theme. Having said that, there was one puzzle that took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to circumvent, so they aren’t completely simplistic.

When I finally reached the end, I was relieved. The game is supposed to be a living illustration of mental illness and it does that amazingly well. I felt drawn in to the game as I played it, and then when it delivered one of its (many) shocks, I was almost always disgusted and repulsed. And yet, the looping nature of the story instilled a feeling of inescapability from finishing – much as I would assume an actual mentally ill person would feel unable to escape from the horrors that life visits upon them.

There are supposedly many different endings. I finished the “standard” easiest one, saw that there was a branching tree for the others and went back in for more. After the second ending (which in my opinion was less satisfying) I called it quits. If I had nothing else to play, I probably would have finished this completely for the 100% trophy, but my “to play” list is far too long to spend more time on this.

Overall, it was an educational experience. I wouldn’t call it a “fun” game, but if you have any friends or relatives that suffer from depression, anxiety, or psychosis, I strongly recommend you play this game from start to finish. If you don’t , it is still worth playing through at least once, just to experience it. And if, while playing, you ever feel like the game is stupid and boring, or sick and twisted, or gross and disgusting… just remind yourself that there are people for whom it isn’t “just a video game” but have to deal with these types of visions and events on a day to day basis.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, May 17, 2016 9:27 PM PT [+]

Rollers of the Realm is a Pinball RPG. You might ask, “What the heck is a pinball RPG and how could that work?” Well, you would be right to ask and it actually works pretty well.

I purchased this game some time ago, but never invested much time into it. I originally saw it on sale on PSN for $5 and was intrigued by the concept of a pinball RPG, but didn't buy it. Luckily, there was a free demo. I tried it out, and within 20 minutes had plunked down my credit card numbers for the full unlock. (It was only $5 after all!)

The initial impression of the game is your standard run-of-the-mill budget RPG trope: ancient evil, lost heroes, a downtrodden main protagonist... typical stuff. But as soon as the game actually starts, you realize how this is anything but a standard RPG game!

The basic gameplay is simple pinball. You might have multiple paddles in various places on the screen, and there might be a ramp or some minor barricades on the table, but it’s always an extremely simple layout. The biggest departures from classic pinball games is that there is no “nudge” feature – instead you can actually “steer” the ball with one of the controller’s sticks – and the typical pinball “bounce” from hitting rubberized items is nearly non-existent. The key gameplay hook is that the different characters in your party have different physical characteristics. For example, the initial character that you start with (the Rogue) is a small, very lightweight ball that is easy to maneuver around, and will fly all the way to the top of the “table” with a paddle hit. The second character you find (the Knight) is massive in both size and weight. It’s easily two times the size of the Rogue ball and a solid hit from a flipper will only launch it about 2/3 of the way up the screen. By the time you reach the end of the game, your party will have a stable of six different characters, plus you can “hire” additional helpers for a maximum of ten total.

The game of pinball is typically played for a high score. Not so here. Instead, the game of pinball is used as a mechanic to advance the storyline. And there is definitely a storyline. Each “table” is a “chapter” in an overarching storyline, with a specific goal required to advance to the next table. For example, you might need to hit a specific number of targets to open the exit, or you might need to defeat one or more enemies (by rolling into, or over, them), or you might need to traverse a specific path along the table, or there might be a timing-based challenge that requires you to move paddles out of your own way by pressing and/or holding them in a specific pattern. Or, you might need to defeat a “boss” that can only be damaged in a specific way. In short, despite each table being fairly small, they can each present an interesting and somewhat unique challenge.

Typical for a RPG, each character/ball has specific stats. Translating the standard combat strength, armor, hitpoints, etc. statistics into a pinball game is done very well. Combat is joined by rolling into an opponent that is represented by a miniature soldier of other figure on the board – they sometimes will move around, too! Offensive stats like strength will increase the amount of damage you do to your target. Dexterity will allow you to hit more reliably - some opponents have armor or shields. Armor means you take less damage in combat – which is represented by your main paddles shrinking in size until they are completely ineffective. (Thankfully, they can also be "healed" back to full size by at least two of the characters.)

Borrowing another page from the RPG world, each character has one or more unique abilities that are triggered by collecting Mana. This resource is gained by hitting specific targets on the pinball table. Most importantly, Mana is required to Revive fallen characters; when a ball falls off the table, that character is “dead” and can’t be used again until you revive them (or when you advance to the next table). When all of the characters in the party die, the game is over and you are forced to restart. You only lose progress on the current table, you do NOT need to start from the beginning of the adventure!

There is even an in-game item shop where you buy and upgrade equipment for your characters/balls. Buying a new sword for the knight allows him to do more damage when he hits an enemy. Buying better armor for the Rogue allows her to protect your paddles better. There are assorted magical gizmos and doodads that grant additional special abilities to some characters, or make them more powerful in different ways. For example, an upgraded Frying Pan for the Wench character (I’m not making this up) allows her to gain a small healing ability to repair the paddles at a slow rate.

At various points during gameplay there are short comic-book style vignettes that play on specific triggers. Usually these will be at the start or end of a specific table/level, but occasionally they will trigger in the middle of a pinball game. Thankfully, these are generally unobtrusive and generally will not impact the pinball gameplay. The little comic-panel events do serve to introduce new characters, show new RPG mechanics, explain the current challenge and to advance the story plot points as you play through campaign. The overall story is not horrible; it’s mostly predictable; but it is fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, pointing out its own inherent stereotypical trope-y-ness in a few places. For a reasonably skilled gamer, the whole game clocks in at about 4-6 hours from start to finish. The final three-part “boss battle” is extremely challenging and will test the mettle of even the best pinball wizard!

Overall, this is a fun little game, and well worth an afternoon of time. It’s not going to change the world: don’t go in expecting a great pinball game, and don’t look for an epic fantasy story. However, it does mesh the games of pinball and the RPG genre together in a unique and fun package.

- Stupid @ Wednesday, May 11, 2016 8:49 AM PT [+]

You know, like Pokemon or Tomogachi!

Anyone who has played an MMO released in the last 30 years knows that mounts are almost always sought after. Both for the utility (faster travel speed, more storage, etc.) and for the pure aesthetics – I mean who doesn’t want to careen around a pretend landscape on a trusty steed? BDO has an interesting way of dealing with this. And like many other aspects of that game, it combines the tried and true with a little dash of something that is pretty unique.

Let’s start with how a player gets a mount. For the sake of grounding the discussion, the mounts in BDO come in three major categories: donkeys, which are slow but can carry a moderate amount; horses, which are fast but don’t have much carrying capacity; and wagons, which have incredible carrying capacity, and can be connected to horses.

In BDO, there are basically three ways of getting your first mount. First, you can spend a few thousand of the in-game currency “silver” to buy one from a vendor. This has the advantage of being “easy” (and most MMO-like), but the product you get will not be worthwhile. You can buy a donkey, a horse, or a wagon from the vendor. All of them are universally slower than any of their kind. You will get the slowest donkey, the slowest horse, or the slowest wagon. Additionally, the carrying capacity of the store-bought mounts is lower than your other options.

There is also an in-game store where players can trade mounts between themselves. These mounts will cost several orders of magnitude more, and eliminate most (but not all) of the deficiencies in the store bought mounts.

The second option is to catch a horse in the game. This involves a rather complex and time consuming process. There have been several youtube videos posted on the process. If you are a visual learner (like I am) I highly recommend you watch any one of them. I'll also summarize here:

First you have to go to a horse-spawning area and find a horse. There are several of these in the game, and a new horse will spawn at each one every two to three realtime hours. Once you find a horse, you have to equip a specific piece of equipment (a lasso) and “rope” the horse. This involves a reaction-type mini game event where you have to click the mouse to start, then press space at a very specific time to “win”. Press to soon, and you lose. Press too late, you lose. Get confused about whether it is a click or a spacebar tap, and you lose. Once you’ve roped the horse, you press the W (forward) key to advance towards it. You cannot turn or change your path of movement here. If you cannot get to the horse due to terrain, you lose. At some point the horse will rear up. As soon as this happens, you start spamming the spacebar. Anything less than about 100 taps per minute is going to be too slow and you will lose. You will keep doing this for 10 seconds. After that you go back to holding down the W (forward) key again… until the horse rears again. Repeat this process until you get close enough to interact with the horse. Once there, you “use” a specific food item (lumps of raw sugar) to gain “faction” with the horse. Usually 2 or 3 lumps will do. (If you don't have enough sugar, you'rte very likely to lose.) Once you've placated the horse with sugar lumps, you press R to attempt to mount the horse. If you’ve done everything properly, you’ll jump on its back. If not, it will kick you in the face and run away. Fighting back will cause you to lose your karma stat (which is bad). If you get kicked, you basically play a punching bag and take the damage until the horse has had enough. And then you start over. If, by some miracle, you manage to not lose at any point and actually manage to get on the horse, you’re still not done. You have to ride it slowly to an in-game stable. Here you can finally Register your new horse, and it is yours!

Whew! That’s not an easy process! But it gets even better. Horses that you catch come with random skills - some of which are quite desirable and others which are almost completely useless - a random gender (male or female) and a random “tier”. Higher tier horses are obviously more desirable. Unfortunately, the player has absolutely ZERO control over any of this. You just hope for the best and see what you get. There isn’t a Tier 1 location, and a Tier 2 location, etc. in the game. You can get a lowly Tier 1 from the most difficult locations and a Tier 7 from the easiest location. It’s completely random.

In addition to having a Tier, every horse has a Level. Levels, unlike Tiers, operate exactly as you would expect. All horses start out as level 1 and they increase in level as they gain experience. And of course, horses gain experience as you ride them. Each time a horse levels up, it has a small chance to learn a new skill. Again, these are randomly awarded. Luckily, the chance increases with level, so a horse probably wont learn anything going form level 3 to level 4 (for example), but almost certainly will when going from level 28 to level 29. Which leads to the third and best way to get horses: breeding.

Once you’ve captured at least two horses, you can try breeding them. You’ll need to have one male horse and one female horse. (Females are much more rare than males.) Breeding two horses will lead to a new horse, that is also randomly generated. In this case, the player actually has some modicum of control over what comes out. See, both horses' tiers and levels are added up and plugged into a mysterious formula that determines what the foal will be. Higher level horses will grant a better chance at a higher tier foal. For example, breeding two Tier 1 horses that are both level 11 (or higher) will always result in a Tier 2 foal. (There is actually a great website that allows you to plug in the tier and level of your breeding pair and shows you the chances of what the foal’s gender and tier might be.)

Breeding is pretty much the only way to get higher Tier horses. The maximum Tier that can be captured is Tier 2 or 3. (This will raise to Tier 4 at some point in the future.) The maximum Tier currently in the game is Tier 7. (This will go up to Tier 10 as expansions are released.) The sole way to go from the maximum capturable Tier 3 to the maximum Tier 7 is by breeding.

And to make things interesting, each horse can only be bred a certain number of times. Females can be bred once and once only. Males can be bred twice. So if you get a low tier foal, or one with undesirable skills, you don’t just “try again” and hope for a better RNG roll. No, instead, you get to start over by capturing another new horse or two!

I should also point out that there is a similar breeding sub-game for in-game pets. In Black Desert Online, the mini-pets that you see in other games actually have some utility. Some pets will alert you about the location of usable gathering nodes. Others will auto-loot for you. Some will sound an alarm when enemies are near. Still others can provide a small combat buff. Higher tier pets are, obviously, more powerful. A low-tier pet might pick up one piece of loot every 10 seconds; a high tier pet could pick up a piece of loot every two seconds! But since pets, like horses, can only be bred a limited number of times, and the offspring vary wildly based on RNG stats, it takes a significant amount of time and effort to get a valuable high-tier pet.

Finally, there are wagons and carts. In addition to outright purchase (from the NPC merchants, or on the player marketplace) these can be crafted using the worker subsystems, which depends on your "Contribution" (which I've already talked about). Most of the materials needed can be gathered by automated workers (that we refer to joking as "dudes"), but some are only gatherable by players. The entire crafting system is easily as complex and involved as the breeding game; it is not simply a matter of putting specific ingredients into a crafting tool and waiting for a green bar to fill up! In fact, because it is so involved, the "best" wagon in the game regularly sells for 3-million silver.

The in-game horse and pet breeding systems are complex and time consuming, but extremely rewarding. So much so that it has developed into a completely separate sub-game within the game world. Some people play the game solely in order to breed horses. And, honestly, offering more than the standard “go out and kill stuff” activities makes Black Desert Online a much more robust gaming experience for all players.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, April 19, 2016 4:40 PM PT [+]

One of the easiest non-MMO sub-games to get involved with in Black Desert Online is the “trading” game. If the player were to completely ignore this part of the game, they would probably not even notice it (outside of not being able to participate in about 1/3 of the potential Guild Missions), but playing the trading game is an easy way to earn quick in-game money.

Just about every major town in the game has a special NPC called a Trade Merchant. These NPCs buy and sell trade goods only. You can’t sell normal dropped loot at this NPC, you have to go to a standard shop. Essentially, these NPCs ONLY deal in a specific “special” kind of item, trade goods. Trade goods do rarely drop during normal fighting, and they are occasionally rewarded for turning in some quests, so they aren’t completely ignorable, but for the most part, if you only used the trade merchant to sell the odd trade good and nothing else, that would work.

If the player were just using them as a way to offload the trade goods that appear during “normal” play, they could triple their income by starting on the path to the trading game (and, indeed, this is how most players get sucked into it). See, every trade good has a region of origin, and unless you have a complete chain of linked nodes between the region of origin of the trade item and the region you are selling the item, the merchant only pays out 30% of the listed value. (You “link” nodes by using the Contribution system that was talked out last time.)

For example, say you were killing Kuku Birds in the Northern Plains of Serendia. (Those are an actual MOB and an actual region in the game.) And let’s suppose that in the course of that game play you were awarded a “Closed Beak” item. (Again, this is an actual item in the game.) You probably might never have seen one before, so you mouse over it. The tool tip says that it is worth 10,000 silver! Wow! A lucky drop! So you run back to town to sell it and reap the rewards, but unless you have linked the Northern Plains of Serendia node with the city node, you will only get 3,000 silver, 30% of the expected value. In order to get the full actual value of the item, the player would need to invest Contribution points to create a link between the node where the item was dropped and the city where they are trying to sell it.

But once you’re at the trade merchant, you’ll likely take a look around. And that’s when you’ll discover that these seemingly useless NPCs actually have a boatload of functionality. See, the trade merchants also SELL trade items. These are usually very heavy items that do not stack; trade goods both take up a lot of inventory space and weighing down whomever is carrying them so that they move very slowly. The price to purchase these items varies depending on the demand that the players have made. For example, if a lot of players are buying a specific trade item, the price will start to increase. If there is no demand for that item, the price will drop. The price to buy a specific trade item can vary from as low as 80% of the normal cost, to as high as 110% of the normal cost.

Once players have purchased these items, they can literally carry them to another city or to a trade merchant in another region, and re-sell the item, hopefully at a profit. Keep in mind that these trade items exist solely to be bought and sold and have no actual use in the game outside of this system.

When a player sells a trade item, the actual sale price is modified by several things: the “demand” for that item; the distance from the item’s origin, whether or not the player has a valid “link” between the source and the sale nodes, and, occasionally, how long has passed since the item was acquired. For example, a food item (like a fish) or a medicine item (like a salve) will sometimes have a 24-hour timer on the item. As time passes, the value of the item will decay until it is literally worthless. The distance between the source and sale nodes will positively influence the sale price. The further you travel before selling a trade item will increase the sale price. The longest route in the game right now will net a cool 55% profit on each trade run! The drawback, of course, is that the longer the trade route is, the longer it takes in time to travel that distance. Finally, the sale of the item will also depend on other player’s actions. If everyone in the game tries to sell the same item in the same place, the sale price will go down.

The prices of each item is displayed in the game as a historical line chart. If demand for an item increases (or supply decreases), the line will go up and the price will be higher (for both buying and for selling). If the demand goes down (or supply increases) the line will go down and the price will be lower. To make this more complex, most of the trade items can only be purchased form a specific vendor. For example, you can only buy “Velian Red Wine” in the city of Velia. Even if someone else has carried a huge shipment of Velian wine to Port Epheria, you cannot buy it there (but they will push the sale price down for everyone else).

When you are considering buying a trade item, you can spend one Energy to see the price trends for that item in every other city and node that you have unlocked. This allows the canny trader to pick and choose items that are being produced/sold for a low price, but needed/purchased for a high price at some remote location, and, thus, maximize their profits!

Finally, when one sells trade items, there is a “Bargaining” mini-game. For a cost of FIVE Energy, the player is presented with a graphical set of scales and two buttons. The goal is to balance the scales. One button moves the scales “a lot” and the other moves it “a little”. The description of the effect is purposely vague, because the in-game effect seems semi-random. The player only has three attempts to get the scales to balance. If the character has a lot of the “luck” stat (which has a range of zero to a maximum cap of +5) then they are more likely to “win”. If the scales balance, the sale price of the trade items increases by another 10%. If not, the price remains as it normally would be. For most players, five Energy is a significant cost – at a regen rate of one Energy every three minutes, that represents 15 minutes of playtime!

Because the trade items are unstackable and impose a very large carrying capacity penalty, it is mostly impractical to actually carry trade goods on the character. A player character loaded down with only a handful of trade goods will be reduced to a very slow movement rate, and would take several minutes to get to the destination - sometimes longer than an hour for a very long trip. To deal with this, the game has purchasable (and craftable) mounts, carts, and wagons! Depending on the size and complexity of the mount, these can has over a dozen spaces and have a carrying capacity that is multiple times larger than a normal character.

And to make less of a simple spreadsheet management exercise, there are NPC “bandits” that roam the byways and highways of the game. These are shown on the main map as a red-colored tag and they move around randomly (but always in the same general area). Should you pass one of these locations, several AI-controlled bandit “monsters” will spawn in the roadway. This will block or hinder your movement if you aren’t paying attention. And then they do their best to kill you, causing you to lose your investment and your life.

Overall, the trading game provides a completely different playstyle to a MMO that is not often explored. To my knowledge only EVE Online has anything similar. It doesn’t provide a quick and instant way to make money, and, in fact, is probably one of the slowest ways to accumulate wealth in the game. But it does provide a nice solid diversion from the endless kill/loot/repeat cycle of most combat MMOs.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, April 12, 2016 5:33 PM PT [+]