Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gaming Plans

Well I had a crazy week.  I barely played any games at all.  But I had some time to scan the headlines and keep up with gaming news.

I realized that there aren't actually that many games announced that I'm excited for.  I was thinking ahead to everything I know of that is supposed to release this year and I only game up with a couple that I'm really interesting in getting.

Final Fantasy Type-0 is the game I'm most excited for.  I obviously love the Final Fantasy series and this is the first time Type-0 is getting released in the U.S.  It's a gritty, mature take on war and it has the Final Fantasy name attached.  It's also an action RPG which is a departure for the series.  I've purposefully avoided most information about it because I know that I'll pick it up day one.  I'll always give a new Final Fantasy game a chance and I like discovering the world on my own.

Because of my love for the series I'm also excited to get my hands on Final Fantasy Record Keeper.  I don't have high hopes for it, but it should be interesting to at least try out.  It's a mobile game that lets you relive many of the scenarios and epic battles of the Final Fantasy series.  My biggest worry is that Square Enix loves to put shitty free to play models in place for their mobile games.  Just look at All the Bravest.

The last game on my radar, which doesn't actually have a release date, is Hearthstone for iPhone.  I love Hearthstone but I never have time to sit down and play it.  If I'm sitting at my computer I have a wide selection of other PC specific games to play and I don't actually sit down to play games on my iPad all that often.  But I'm constantly doing stuff on my phone.  I love finding mobile games that I can play in quick bursts.  I already know that I'm going to play a ton of Hearthstone once it's in my pocket at all times.

Besides those games I'm mostly just working through my backlog, which is always a good thing.  I also want to dive into the Final Fantasy series spin-offs soon.  And somehow Final Fantasy XIV actually keeps dragging me back in.  I'm having a good time in a MMO and it's really surprising for me.  I should probably write about it more often if I keep playing.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Interconnected World of Majora's Mask

I'm through the first dungeon in Majora's Mask and I'm really enjoying the game.  I haven't played it since it originally launched on N64, so it's fun to dig in and discover things I had completely forgotten about.

It's amazing how all the characters interact and have daily lives.  I love the three day cycle of this game, it's such a perfect fit with how they've constructed the world.  You can learn where characters will be at certain times on certain days.  They are all interconnected with quests, objectives, and masks.

To this day, there's still no other game like it.

I think the multi-day cycle is a really cool thing that other games could take and run with.  I would like to see it redone by modern game designers, but it seems like a concept that was left alone after Majora's Mask.

At this point I'm mostly focusing on exploring the world.  It's really fun just exploring and doing sidequests for masks even though I'm only through the first dungeon.  I'll get back to the main questline soon but for now I'm having a good time taking in the world.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Still Quizzing Still Up

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm having a crazy week of work.  I had a bunch of projects land at the same time, which is always a blessing for money but a curse for my sanity and sleep schedule.  I've been working 16 hour days basically the entire week.

It doesn't leave much room for gaming.  But I do need to take the occasional break to clear my head.  Usually a break is catching up on twitter for a few minutes or listening to part of a podcast while I'm eating a fast meal.

But 10-15 minute gaming breaks can be super refreshing mentally.  So, I've been playing a lot of Quiz Up!  I might dig into some other iPhone games I have waiting on my phone already, but for the moment Quiz Up is keeping me sane.  It's really easy to do short sessions and it takes my full attention.

It's amazing how much better I can work after a quick gaming break.  Clearing my mind with breaks every few hours let's me keep being super productive and last through these long days.

I'm hoping that I can get back to a more normal schedule later this week.  At least by this weekend hopefully.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


It's shaping up to be a busy work week for me, so I'm not playing a lot of games.  I did get to watch an episode of Archer with my wife while I was taking a meal break yesterday and I realized I haven't written anything about it even though I've been watching through the entire series.

Archer is a really funny show.  I know everyone's humor is different, but something about it strikes a chord with me.  I usually laugh out loud at least once every episode.  That's super rare for me.  Most popular comedy shows don't do much for me and rely heavily on dumb humor that I don't appreciate.  Something about this one just clicks with my sense of humor.

When I first looked into Archer I was turned off by the fact that it's an animated show.  I didn't realize how adult it actually is.  Looking at stills don't do the show justice.

I would recommend checking out the show if you already have a Netflix subscription, since there are 4 seasons sitting there just waiting to be streamed.  I really like it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Trying to Like Borderlands 2

I must lack some basic pleasure mechanism that allows me to enjoy Borderlands 2.  It's a game that I feel like I should enjoy and I keep going back and trying it because of that feeling.

I never actually have fun playing it.

Shooting with friends is ok, but the rest of the game just bugs me.  I hate their quest system, the crazy amounts of loot, constantly smashing the pick-up item button, figuring out which gun is better, and traveling around the world.  Not to mention how repetitive the gameplay and enemies are.  And the shooting doesn't even feel that satisfying.  Borderlands 2 just doesn't ever click with me.

I should probably call it quits with the series.  I never really liked the first game either, even though I finished it in it's entirety.

The promise of adventures in an interesting world is one of the main factors that draws me back in.  I mean, I loved the first episode of Tales from the Borderlands.  The story and the world were fantastic and I'm super excited for the next episode.  But that's an adventure game with the focus on story.

That fun and interesting world building hasn't ever carried over to the main games.  They devolve into generic shooter loot-grind fests.  And if you know me you know how much I hate a loot grind.

All of this to say... I'm done with Borderlands 2.  I give up.  I'm never going to enjoy it.  I deleted it from my hard drive and I'm not going to let it tempt me again.  That way only leads to disappointment.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Star Wars Expanded Universe

I'm a huge fan of the Star Wars Expanded Universe.  For those of you that don't know, the Expanded Universe is anything Star Wars outside of the movies.  I've been reading novels in the Expanded Universe for as long as I can remember.  Some of my young adult novels were Star Wars Expanded Universe when I was still learning how to read.

The Expanded Universe that I know and love is now wiped out.  They've officially made it non-cannon to make way for the new Star Wars movies and all of Disney's future creative endeavors now that they own the intellectual property.

A basic timeline of the Old Expanded Universe novels

It was a major blow to me when I found out.  I've been invested in this Expanded Universe for as long as I can remember.  I didn't read a Star Wars book for almost a year after they made the announcement.  A New Dawn was my first novel after my hiatus, and it's the first novel that is part of the "New Expanded Universe".

They've said that this New Expanded Universe will always be canon.  From this point forward, every novel, TV Show, comic, and videogame will stay canon to the Star Wars Universe.

In a way, this is really cool.  It makes it easy for people to start getting into the New Star Wars Expanded Universe.  As of right now, there are two novels, three comic books, and two TV shows in the New Expanded Universe.  You could probably get through all the material in a long weekend if you really dedicated yourself to it.

So they've cleared the way and they're actually planning the New Expanded Universe for the long haul this time.

But what about the Old Expanded Universe that I've been so invested in?  Well, it's abandoned, and I'm still sad about that.  But a side effect of scrapping it is... it's now complete.  Nothing will ever be added to the Old Expanded Universe.

If I wanted to, I could consume every piece of content in the Old Expanded Universe and say that I've completed it.  That's kind of amazing.  It's also a little too ambitious.  But I am interested in doing a smaller version of that.

Right now I'm contemplating reading all the novels in chronological order that take place after Return of the Jedi.  That's when the authors finally get freedom to introduce new characters and ideas.  The series gets so interesting once it's freed from the movies and given free reign, especially once it reaches the New Jedi Order time period.

It would be a lot of books, but I've actually read most of them already.  I'm sure I've missed a few along the way, but for the most part it would be like visiting old friends.

I'm not committing to it right now... but it's floating around in my head now.  I might buckle down and start it soon.  I'll definitely let you know.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Steam In-Home Streaming

This week I finally got around to trying the Steam in-home streaming functionality.  It works really well!

My two main computers are a Mac laptop that I use for creative purposes and my Windows desktop that I use for fun.  My Windows desktop is my main gaming PC and my household media server as well.

One day this week I was curious to actually try in-home streaming.  I was on my Mac and needed a break.  I knew my desktop was on downstairs.  I booted up Steam and picked a Windows only game to play.  It gave me a basic prompt telling me that it would stream this from my other computer where the game was installed.

And then I was playing!  It was super simple and a great experience overall.  It was easy to do and very playable.

It's a feature that I had almost forgotten about entirely, but now that I've used it I'm very impressed.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Maybe Not a Comic Guy

I wrote about my experiences with comics a few weeks ago.  After having some positive experiences and being excited for the release of Marvel Star Wars #1 I thought I might actually end up being a comic guy.

Now I'm fairly sure I am not.

I've read Star Wars #1, Star Wars #2, and Vader #1.  I really wanted to like them, but I only think they're ok.  The story isn't bad, but it's not great.

I think my problem is that I read super fast.  I've been an avid reader for as long as I can remember.  I fly through books to get the story.  I also tend to fly through comics just reading the text.  I never stop and linger over the images, I just glance at them and move on.  They don't really do it for me.

I finish a comic book in about five minutes.  The few that I picked up over the last weeks have been around four to five dollars each.  Five bucks for five minutes of entertainment is not a good value proposition for me personally.  I don't think I can justify continuing to purchase comics.  Especially when I can go get a digital book or indie game for the same price.

I'm assuming this isn't how most people read comics.  I just can't make myself slow down when I'm reading something, at this point in my life I'm actually not capable of it.  I read fast.  It's the way my brain is wired now.

I'm kinda disappointed.  I really thought comics might be for me.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Star Wars: A New Dawn

I just finished reading Star Wars: A New Dawn.  As far as Star Wars books go... it was ok.  It wasn't amazing or anything, but I had fun reading it.

I know that's not a rousing endorsement but there's a reason for that.  This is a tie-in novel with the current Star Wars CG TV show Star Wars Rebels.

A New Dawn fleshes out two of the characters' backstory.  It's an interesting look at where they're coming from.  Unfortunately, because you know they're in the show you know that they're never in real danger.  They're obviously alive further on in the timeline.  It takes a lot of the tension away from the novel.

While I love the Star Wars universe and read a lot of the books in it this is one I would tell most people to stay away from.

There is an exception!

If you're a fan of the Star Wars Rebels TV show and really want to find out more about Kannan and Hera's past together, by all means grab yourself a copy of A New Dawn.  For the rest of you out there, it's an easy Star Wars book to skip.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Buy to Play on the App Store

It looks like we've come full circle.  Apple is now advertising games that are "Pay Once and Play."

It's so weird that we have to come up with a term to talk about games you buy once and then play forever.  Every game used to be that way, but in this world of crazy amounts of DLC and in-app purchases it is no longer the norm.

I'm actually happy to see this.  It's finally a backlash against the predatory in-app purchase model that so many games seem to take.  Not all in-app purchase models are bad, I don't hate them categorically.  But some of the games out there might as well be slot machines.  They're the ones giving gaming a bad name right now.

When DLC or in-app purchases are done correctly, they can be great.  But when they're done poorly they can just be there to take peoples' money.

I hope Apple keeps promoting games like this.  Maybe it will help draw some attention away from the "games" that are only there to take your money.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Just Floating Between Things

I've been sick since last Wednesday.  I'm over the worst of it but now I just have this cold that keeps lingering.  I've been working from home and getting a lot of sleep but besides that I'm just floating between games and activities at the moment.

It's hard to lock down on one thing and focus while I'm sick.  Instead, I'm kinda just sampling stuff and making a little progress here and there.

I'm through the first dungeon in Majora's Mask 3D on my 3DS.

I went back and spent a couple nights playing around with endgame content in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

I'm playing Quiz Up whenever I have a few free minutes on my phone.

I'm trying to finish reading Star War: A New Dawn on my kindle.

I finished watching the Star Wars films in Machete Order.

I played a little more Wolfenstein.

I don't have anything big to report.  I'm still just trying to feel better.  But expect some of those fleeting thoughts above to become full posts later.

What kind of games and activities do you readers lean towards when you're sick?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Quiz Up

Quiz Up is an awesome game of niche trivia.  I don't know how I haven't heard of it until last week.  Apparently it's been highly rated in the app store for a long time and I've just overlooked it.

Let me emphasize, this is niche trivia.  That's what makes it so amazing!  It's not general knowledge like most trivia.  I've never enjoyed those types of trivia games.  This has very specific subsections of knowledge.

For example, I've been competing heavily in the Star Wars Expanded Universe trivia area.  I'm actually ranked number one in Minnesota at the moment which gives me some kind of perverse pleasure.  It's such a small facet of geekdom, but for the moment it's mine!

I showed the app to my wife and now she's hooked too.  Recently she's been dominating the Harry Potter trivia section.  We were dueling for awhile over The Newsroom TV show too.

Quiz Up allows for very quick play sessions.  One round of trivia consists of seven questions and each question has a time limit of one minute.  A single round of trivia will never take longer than seven minutes, but most of the time it's more like three or four minutes for each round.

I would recommend this to any variety of geek out there.  I love my geekiness, and we all tend to have our special areas of focus.  Quiz Up truly lets us show it off.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Gunman Clive 2

I was browsing the 3DS e-shop and saw Gunman Clive 2.  I loved the first game, and Gunman Clive 2 was only $2.99 so I instantly purchased it.

It was so good!

It's a short game, only 25 levels, but they're all superbly made and fun to play.  There's no filler or bloat in this game at all.  I applaud it for that.  I wish more games would be willing to embrace the shorter structure when it makes sense.

If you like platformers and own a 3DS you should definitely buy it.  It's great, and seriously... it's only $2.99.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Changed My Mind: Codename S.T.E.A.M.

I wrote up some reactions to the Codename S.T.E.A.M. demo while I was in the middle of playing it last week.  Last night I finally sat down and finished playing the demo.

I've decided to not buy the game.

It's sad for me since I was really looking forward to Codename S.T.E.A.M.  On paper it seemed to be a really cool turn based strategy game that would be a good fit for me.

In practice it falls apart for two main reasons:
  • The enemy turn takes way too long.
  • The best strategy is to rush to the goal.
By the end of the demo I hated both of these things.

Waiting for the enemy to take their turn and move around becomes excruciating after a few levels.  It's even worse once the levels get more complicated and contains more enemies.

As far as the "strategy" in this game... all my careful strategy and best laid plans are worse than just rushing one character to the end of the level and getting them in the "Goal" area.  Once I discovered this, there was no point playing in an intelligent way anymore.  It's better to just rush for the goal.

Even though this is one of the games I was most excited about from last E3 I won't be picking it up.  Ugh.  Disappointing.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Star Wars: Watching The Machete Order

STAR WARS!  I love Star Wars!  It's easily the fictional universe that I'm most invested in.  I've read almost all of the novels in the Extended Universe (even though that storyline has been wiped out to make room for Episode VII).  I've played every Star Wars video game I can get my hands on.  I consume Star Wars lore, stories, and experiences whenever I can.

So this holiday season when I finally got around to buying my first Blu Ray set I picked up Star Wars: The Complete Saga.  It was really affordable around Black Friday and while I'm in the Star Wars universe a lot via different media, I don't actually watch the movies all that often.  It was finally time to pick up a modern version of the flims.  Part of my motivation is that I wanted to rewatch them and finally try out the Machete Order.

You may be asking yourself, "What is the Machete Order?"  Well, it's the order that you can watch the Star Wars movies in to keep all of the big plot reveals and twists intact.  There are things in the original trilogy that spoil parts of the prequel trilogy and vice versa.  The idea behind the Machete Order is to preserve all the spoilers while having a story that makes sense and has biggest impact on the viewer.  It also helps viewers draw a lot of comparisons between the trilogies that are lost if the movies are watched in chronological order.  It's supposedly the ideal way to watch for someone who has never watched any of the films before.

Here's the Order:

Episode IV: A New Hope
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Conspicuously absent is Episode I.  The hard truth is that it actually adds nothing to the overall narrative of Anakin and Luke.  They are the ones that these trilogies are really about.  It does have a podrace scene and lightsaber duel that are cool, but none of the important plot points in the series occur in Episode I.

By watching in The Machete Order you get the beginning of Luke's story while breaking away from it after the big cliffhanger at the end of The Empire Strikes Back.  Then you flashback in time to see Anakin's fall to the dark side and how he becomes Vader.  Finally, you get the conclusion of both of their stories together in Return of the Jedi.

It's an interesting watching order and I've wanted to try it out since I first heard about it.  My wife and I are currently through Attack of the Clones and so far the movie order is working really well.

I know it's often talked about, but watching the movies mixed together like this really brings to light how much better the original trilogy is.  The acting, story, character development, and practical effects are just so good in the original trilogy.  Then you jump over to the prequels and get some cool CG and lightsaber battles... but not much else.

Let's also give credit where it's due.  The Machete Order is called that because it was first proposed by Machete over at his site in 2011.

I'm really interested to see how I feel about this viewing order once I finish it.  I'll definitely let you know!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Return to Wolfenstein The New Order

I jumped back into Wolfenstein The New Order last night.  I had played the first hour or so when I did the giant playtest of my entire Steam backlog in December/January.

Getting back into it I'm reminded just how much it feels like a 90s era shooter.  Health doesn't recharge to full every time you hide in cover like a modern shooter.  Health packs and armor are pickups found throughout the levels.  That alone gives the game a very different feel from modern shooters.

But not only that, the way weapons are handled is decidedly old school.  You can carry as many weapons as you want with no real restrictions.  None of this one primary weapon one secondary weapon crap that "realistic" shooters have been imposing on us lately.  You can even duel wield totally impractical guns.

My favorite is duel wielding assault rifles.  It's something that's completely impractical and totally unrealistic but it's so much fun.  The developers of this game always seem to choose fun over realism and it really makes the game shine.  I think a lot of modern games get so caught up in being consistent or realistic with their game worlds that they forget to just have fun in them.  It's a video game.  It's supposed to be fun.

The story is surprisingly good too.  It's a time jump forward from 1940s WWII to a 1960s post-war world where the Nazi's have won the war.  It's all about remaking a resistance force long after all resistance has been stomped out.  The story can get serious and gritty even though the actual gameplay is over-the-top impractical craziness.  It can swing from powerful emotional scenes to fighting giant Nazi war mechs in seconds.  And somehow it all works.

Now that I'm a few hours in and still enjoying it I'll probably end up finishing the game.  How Long To Beat tells me the game is probably around 12 hours long which is nothing compared to all the epic RPGs I've been playing.  Even if I don't finish it, I'm having fun with it right now which is what really matters.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Telltale Game of Thrones Episode 2

Last night I sat down and for the first time in a long time I didn't know what I was going to play.

After finishing up the last main entry in my Final Fantasy Project I don't specifically have any games lined up to play.  I want to get around to the Final Fantasy spin-offs, but I'm taking a break before diving in.

I was surprised and excited to see that the second episode of the Telltale Game of Thrones game was out!  I downloaded it and marathoned the whole episode last night.

It was really good.  I'm a big Game of Thrones fan and I've slowly been becoming a Telltale Games fan too.  The combination of the two is a perfect match for me.

This particular episode jumped back and forth between characters often and really had the pacing of a Game of Thrones episode.  Characters developed and grew.  Tension was built.  There were a couple "Oh shit" moments in the typical Game of Thrones vein too.  I just loved it.

I don't know how to talk much more about it without spoiling the story.  The game is all story and choices.  I really don't want to spoil any of it.

If you're a Game of Thrones fan and an adventure game fan and you haven't played this game yet... seriously, what are you doing?  Go get it right now.  It's so good.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Final Fantasy XIV: Wrap-Up

In the end it seems like Final Fantasy XIV might not be for me.  Although I like the story and the Final Fantasy nostalgia I can't seem to appreciate the game as a whole because of it's MMO trappings.

Every thing I dislike about this game is because of the MMO format.  With that being said, it still is one of the best MMOs I've played.  It's right up there with World of Warcraft in terms of quality.  The mechanics, gameplay, and graphics are all solid for a MMO.

The best part of Final Fantasy XIV is it's community.  I've had the most positive experience in this community out of any MMO I've ever played.  Almost every time I was new to a dungeon the other players were happy to help.  It doesn't hurt that the game incentivizes playing through old content and helping new players.

It truly is social engineering at it's finest.  Rewards are given for using the Duty Finder Roulette too.  The roulette will place you in any dungeon where you are needed at any level.  Your level will scale down to that dungeon via a level sync system and the dungeons are perfectly tuned to those levels.  Not only do you get a huge bonus for completing a dungeon via the Duty Finder Roulette, but if it was a player's first time through that dungeon you get another bonus on top of it.

Basically, it rewards veterans for helping newbies.  It has made for a great community.  In my entire playthrough I haven't had a single bad experience with a dungeon group.  I haven't been able to say that for any other MMO I've played.

The level sync the game uses in these situations is really cool too.  It will sync your level down to the maximum level for the content.  For example, if I'm level 50 and enter a dungeon for levels 16-19 I will show up in that dungeon synced to level 19.  And this is true for the random world events you encounter on a daily basis too.  With the click of a button you can sync your level to the level of the event and be participating in seconds.

The most redeeming part of Final Fantasy XIV is it's story.  The main storyline is actually the best story I've ever experienced in a MMO.  I felt like I was truly making progression while doing story quests and I was invested in the story by the end of the game.  When the credits rolled I got the same happy/sad/nostalgic/reflective feeling that I always get at the end of a Final Fantasy game.  Between that and my class quests I truly feel like my playtime in Final Fantasy XIV was worth it.

This is my Bard at the end of the game.  Great hat... interesting shoes.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is actually a very good MMO.  It's just not as good as the single player Final Fantasy games.  But it's really not fair to compare them.  They're essentially different genres of game.  For that reason I won't be putting Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in my Final Fantasy ranking.  There's no fair way to compare single player RPGs to MMORPGs.  Below, you'll see it unchanged since the last game I completed.

Final Fantasy Ranking
1. IX
2. X
5. VII
6. VI
7. IV
8. V
9. XII
10. II
11. I
12. III

Total Completion Time: 84 hrs

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Memories of Majora

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is releasing on Friday and I'm seriously thinking about picking it up.  I'm still sitting on the fence because I had a lot of trouble getting into Ocarina of Time on 3DS when I attempted to play it a few months ago.

My struggle getting into Ocarina of Time was that I remembered the game too well.  I had played those 3 intro dungeons so many times as a kid that I still remembered everything about them.  I got bored before I even got to the first adult Link section.  So I promptly gave up on the game.

This shouldn't be a problem with Majora's Mask.  I played the game once and only have some scattered memories of it.  Everything I remember about the game is positive.  I still think the 3 day cycle mechanic is really interesting.  Nothing like it has been done elsewhere in gaming.  Majora's Mask is the most unique Zelda game out of the whole series.

If I do pick it up, I'm hoping it can rekindle my love of the 3D Zelda games.  I've had a falling out with them ever since Twilight Princess.  It was the first 3D Zelda game I didn't finish.  And then on the Wii I never even played Skyward Sword because I really dislike motion controls.  Although I still love Wind Waker, I've been very down about the other 3D games in the series lately.

I'm leaning towards getting the game when it comes out later this week, but I'm still not sure.  Time will tell.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Snacking With Graze Boxes

Graze boxes have been a huge help for me eating well.  I mentioned it offhand in my post about judging hunger and intermittent fasting but I wanted to give it some more focus.

I've always been bad at snacking healthy.  I have a tendency to eat whatever is out on the counter or easily visible while looking around my kitchen.  This has always led to me eating a lot of candy and processed food.  I've also never tried to portion control snacks, I would just eat a bunch.

Then my friend BJ Keeton told me about the wonders of Graze boxes.  Graze is essentially a subscription snacking service.  They have over 100 snacks and each one is self-contained and pre-portioned in a little container they call a punnent.   I've completely switched over to Graze punnets for snacking and it's made it much easier for me to eat healthy.

One of the really cool parts of Graze is that the snacks are relatively healthy but they aren't super healthy crazy super foods.  It's not the disgusting "health food" that is often shoved down your throat in advertisements.  They have things like Smores, Strawberry Shortcake, Cocoa and Vanilla Bars, and Banana Dippers with Caramel.  Those are some of my favorite snacks.  I, obviously, have a sweet tooth but they also have tons of savory snacks as well.  Seriously, go browse their snacks and see for yourself.

I would highly recommend Graze to anyone.  Both my wife and I have been using it for a few months now and we love it.  It's such a great service and it's actually affordable when you think about it in terms of replacing your current snacking budget.

If you go check it out and use one of my links in this post you should be able to get your first trial box for free (and your fifth as well if you subscribe).

Happy snacking!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Reassessing Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy is free to pick up as a PSN subscriber this month so I downloaded it for PS4 even though I've already tried it out on PC.

I launched the game while I was on my stationary bike and just kind of zoned out for a bit while playing, exercising, and listening to some podcasts.

My initial reaction was the same as when I played it on PC.  I didn't like it much.  But, it was helping me kill time while exercising and most of my brain power was being used listening to podcasts anyway.  So I kept playing.

The first hour or so of the game sucks.  Like, it really sucks.  Characters die almost instantly against enemies and can barely get anywhere in the game.  It's super frustrating and the first few unlockables don't feel like they help at all.  If you look back at my initial impression on the PC you can see that I gave up before even playing an hour of it because I was so frustrated with the game.

Something interesting happens after about an hour and a half.  The game starts to get better.  Enough upgrades and progression are finally unlocked.  Finally, characters don't die within the first few encounters.  I was able to get to new tilesets, new sections of the castle, and new enemies.  It became interesting.

While I'm not a fan of roguelikes in general and I still don't think it's a great game... it is much better than I originally thought.  From now on I'll probably play it occasionally while I'm on my stationary bike but I don't anticipate a time where I will ever sit down and play the game on it's own.

But it seems like podcasts, biking, and rogue legacy are a decent combination.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Gaming Podcasts on the Go

I had a few super busy days in the last week where I didn't get any chance to game.  Non-gaming days are the exception for me since I always try to make a little time in my day to disconnect and play something.

One of the few things that keeps me sane on crazy days are all the gaming podcasts I listen to.  I have a bunch I subscribe to and love.  With them always on my phone I know that I'll at least get to rest my mind for a bit while I'm commuting to and from work or meetings.

These brief periods of disconnecting from work make a huge difference in my day and my general happiness level.  At this point, I never listen to music in the car anymore since podcasts do such a better job of engaging my brain.  While I love music, if I listen to it while commuting I find that my mind is constantly on work.  If I throw on a podcast, my mind is actively engaged with the discussion on the show.

Finding gaming podcasts and listening to them has truly helped me get through my work weeks better.  I would be remiss to not leave you with a list of my current favorite gaming podcasts.  These are in order based on how long I've been subscribed to them ranging from multiple years to a podcast I discovered last week:
Overall, these represent about half of the podcasts I listen to.  The other half aren't gaming related (but they're also really good).

If you can't tell, I listen to a lot of podcasts.  And when I find one I enjoy I'll listen to the entire back-catalog of podcasts in the feed too.  So, when I tell you all the above podcasts are vetted and recommended by me, know that I truly mean it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Codename S.T.E.A.M. Demo and the New 3DS

I've been super excited for Codename S.T.E.A.M. ever since it was announced at E3 this year!

It's a turn-based strategy game from the same people who make Fire Emblem.  This game is set in a steampunk world with lots of interesting visuals.  Each turn players have a certain amount of "steam" which is used for movement and attack.  Since both move and attack share the same resource it becomes a game about balancing when to use each one.

The demo just released earlier this week so I've been playing it off and on.  My reaction has been mixed.

I can tell the core of the game is really good, and I'm still most likely going to buy it.  I love the turn based strategy and the steam mechanic of resource management.  But there are some issues that I wouldn't have noticed if I skipped the demo.

My two biggest issues are the alien movement and the controls.

Alien movement is the enemies' turn and it takes a really long time to sit through.  While waiting for them to take their turn the camera is locked on the last character you used.  Basically I'm just sitting there staring at my character's back wondering if the aliens are actually doing anything.

The controls bug me because aiming and looking around is done with the touch screen and stylus.  It's serviceable, but it doesn't feel ideal.  This game is crying out for a second analog stick to aim with.  It would completely fix all my frustrations with the controls.

Both of these lead me to believe the game would be better on the New 3DS that's launching mid-February.  The New 3DS has a faster processor which might help with the alien turn speed and it has a second analog nub that can be used for aiming.  I'm not going to run out and get a new system, I really don't want to drop $200 for a system that I already own a version of.  Not to mention how much of a pain it would be to transfer all my games and data over to a new system with Nintendo's current account system.  It's still horrible and locks games and data to the hardware device instead of pairing it with the account that purchased it.  It would just be a headache in the making.

As time goes on I'll probably get worn down and pick up a New 3DS eventually.  I have owned almost every Nintendo handheld version since the GameBoy.  When I do inevitably cave in and buy a New 3DS I know it will provide a better experience with Codename S.T.E.A.M.

Until then, I still plan on picking up the game for my current 3DS XL.  It's fun and I love turn based combat systems.  I'll just have to deal with the slow alien turns and frustrating stylus aiming.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mario Difficulties

I'm really good at Mario games.  I'm talking about the platformers, not the spin-offs.

I noticed it recently since my daughter has been asking me to play various Mario platformers with her on Wii U and 3DS.  I can jump into any level and typically beat it on the first try, often without being hit at all.  Even if it's right at the end of a game.

This makes me wonder, have I gotten too good at Mario games?  I still enjoy them, but they don't give me the same challenge they used to.

If a new Mario platformer comes out I always pick it up.  Lately, I'll beat the game within the first week.  Sometimes it's even within the first couple days.

I probably sound like an ass since I'm saying I'm too good at something.  But, when skill level and challenge level don't match up it can be frustrating.  It can go the opposite way too where the challenge is just so far above a player's skill level that it's frustrating.

I would really like to see a Mario game for expert players of the series.  People like me who have grown up with Mario and truly want a challenge.  I think it would be really fun.  I also think it will never happen.  Nintendo wants to stay accessible to kids, and I'm fine with that.  Chances are I'll never get my challenging Mario platformer, but at least my kids with get to grow up with Mario too.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Intermittent Fasting and Judging Hunger

I've noticed something weird as I've been tracking my calories.  I'm getting good at estimating how hungry I am... in calories.

I'm doing a diet where I only take in calories during 9 hours of the day.  One of the typical diets people do is only 8 hours (one third of a day) but 9 seems to work better in my case.  For me, this is between 2pm and 11pm.  It's a form of intermittent fasting which is interesting but doesn't have a huge body of research to back it up.  The important thing is that it's working for me.

I still take in a normal overall calorie intake for the day, just during a compressed window of time.  There are some extreme versions of this like the Warrior Diet but they didn't appeal to me as much.  They're a bit too extreme.

Intermittent Fasting plus tracking calories has had an interesting side effect for me.  I'm learning how to judge my hunger in calories.  I know generally how many calories I need to fulfill different kinds of hunger.  For me they break down like this:
  • Snack: 150-250 calories
  • Small Meal: 400-550 calories
  • Large Meal: 550-750 calories
  • Super Hungry: 750-900 calories
Now I'm able to take my subjective feelings and quantify them with a meal plan.

I have snacks and meals that I know how to make quickly which all fit under one of those categories.

Usually I'm eating small or large meals, so each intake is between 400 and 750 calories.  That seems to be the sweet spot for me.  I've only been super hungry a few times and 750 calories didn't quite cut it, but anytime I've gone over 900 calories I've felt way too full afterwards.

It's also really handy to be able to gauge if a snack will fill me or not.  I can quickly read the packaging info or look up a snack in MyFitnessPal to figure out a good portion to fill me up.  Graze boxes have been a huge help with snacking, since they're wonderful and pre-portioned.  I'll probably write about them in their own post soon.

Overall, my new diet is going well and I'm excited to continue it!  I'm trying to avoid having this be a temporary diet.  I'm attempting to change my lifestyle for the long run.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Nintendo Rewards Blowout

Yesterday Nintendo updated their Club Nintendo rewards and finally, for the first time, put up a good selection of games and accessories.  As of writing this, the site is still down because it can't handle the traffic.  That's what happens when you offer more than 100 different game choices and new physical rewards to a group of people that have been given 4-6 really bad game options each month for years on end.  Here's a full list from Reddit of all the reward offerings.

This has only come about because the Club Nintendo program has been canceled and that's the sad part.  I hate to see it go, but this is a nice parting gift.

I just wish they had all of these games available the entire time the rewards program was open.  They would have had many more people using Club Nintendo and responding to their surveys.

While I'm sad to see it go, for now I'll just be happy that I finally have some good games to spend my rewards points on.  Thanks Nintendo!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Baking! Class! Baking Class!

I took my wife on a date this weekend to a baking class.  We have a local shop that offers all kinds of hands-on cooking and baking classes, it's tons of fun.

This was a sweetshop bakery class, so we basically got to make breakfast pastries.  Those doughnuts you see above were made by us in class.  On top of those, we also made cinnamon rolls, danishes, and scones!

It was really nice to get out together.  This past year has been crazy busy and we've gotten out of the habit of date night.  Now we're getting back to it and it's wonderful.

Not to mention that it's always fun to learn and try new things.  If you're never taken a hands-on baking or cooking class I would highly recommend it.  There's probably one in your area if you just google around a bit.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Put the Book Down

This isn't a post about reading less.

This is about the fact that I can't ever abandon a book part way through.

It's been a curse and a blessing in a way for my whole life.  If I manage to get past the first real chapter of a book I will finish it.  Always.

It's gotten me to read things I wouldn't typically.  It's pushed me out of my comfort zone.  It's exposed me to a lot of different books.

Lately, it's driving me crazy.

I just finished reading a string of books that were slow and uninteresting.  I hated that I had to slog through them before I felt like I could move on to the next book.  For some of them I had to pick up the audiobook version just so I could finish.  I was that sick of reading the words on the page.  It's not like me to feel mad or upset about finishing a book.  It's a new feeling.

That's why I'm giving myself permission to put a book down, in the middle of reading it, and walk away from it forever.  It's going to be a hard thing to get used to, but at this point I need to do it.  I value my free time and I don't have much at the moment.  I want to enjoy my time with books.

Hopefully this works.  Today I stopped reading a book and mentally put it away forever.  I hope I can continue to do so if I find myself disliking a book while I'm reading it.  I think it will help me enjoy books more overall.