Revenile 's blog
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Just a guy who enjoys Video Games, TV and Movie animation, story writing/telling, and other similar things. I own a PC, PS2 and PS3, PSP, 3DS, Wii, and I enjoy them all. My RPG Maker XP project is on indefinite hold due to lack of graphic/sound skills to make original material for the program.
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The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is my favorite game in the series.  If I were asked why, I don’t know if I could give a truly cohesive answer to the question, but I’m going to try and explain here and now.  With all my blogs based on a specific game or series, I’ll start with my personal history of the title in question, just so you understand my mindset as I explain the aspects of the game that won me over.  So come with me dear reader, take hold of a mask, embrace our Terrible Fate, and join me in a journey to Termina, a land doomed to end without intervention.

Personal History:

I have never owned a physical copy of Majora’s Mask.  Before we talk about that however, we need to go back to 1999, I had gotten an N64 used from GameStop, along with a copy of Ocarina of Time (a cart I treasure, because it’s a grey, not for resale version 1.0 cart with a stamp that according to the various sources out there say it should be 1.1, yet the 1.0 exclusive glitches work on it.), of which I played extensively.  I even accomplished a 3 heart, mandatory power-up only run with no deaths on the save file.  It was my first N64 game, and even now, as other carts get traded in to my indie game store or sold to friends, I keep this one with me, because of the rarity and its importance in my gaming life.  So anyway one day I was surfing the net at school during some free time and I came across a trailer for something called “Zelda Gaiden” at the time by sites like IGN.  I have included the trailer below.

I watched the ever loving hell out of this trailer, picking apart each detail, getting more and more excited for the eventual game to come, which would be dubbed “Majora’s Mask.”  Yet I never owned a cart of this game, how is this possible?  Well I was still a full time student, I didn’t get allowance growing up, and had no job, so income for me was birthday and Christmas (which are two weeks apart) to get stuff, and I’d forget about the game after it came out, strangely enough.  My first actual playtime with the game was through rental (in fact, it was this rental cart that I beat the game for the first time on).  The first week’s rental kind of went to waste, and it was because of an admittedly stupid reason, see I was used to the trading system in Ocarina of Time, so when I got to the “take the potion to the injured witch in the woods” part of the game, my brain never made the connection that I’m supposed to give the potion while the prompt telling me to do so was still on screen.  I thought the text box was like all the ones in Ocarina and the ones from before in this game too, where you could only hit A to continue the text.  So I ended up returning the game, still stuck in the swamp.

(This scene, this freaking scene prevented me from progressing for a whole week because of the change in the giving system.)

Upon my second rental, I don’t quite remember how (maybe I looked online for help) but I eventually figured it out and continued playing.  Then I hit the Stone Tower Temple, and again was stuck, not because of some change in how the game played, but in the puzzles, couldn’t figure it out.  When I brought the game to my friend’s house, we figured out the devious temple together, and watched the end of the game together.  It would be years before I’d get to play the game again, when I rented it again and beat it a second time (I believe, I recall beating the game twice).  Then nothing until the Virtual Console release.  I bought that sucker day one, and it’s been on my Wii (and now Wii U) ever since, even though I’ve not played through to the end again, and probably won’t for another two weeks as of the time of this writing.  Now, with the release of both the New Nintendo 3DS (Still a stupid name, I’m still going to call it 3DS+ or Super 3DS, and I have the New Red one on pre-order) and Majora’s Mask 3D just 13 days away, I have a reason to once again relive the bleak, atmospheric adventure in Termina.

(Soon...Soon I will have you.)

What I love about the game

So now the hard part about this blog, explaining why this game is my favorite.  As you can see, I’ve had an interesting past with it, I’ve only seen the ending on a rental cart, and the 3DS remake is the only physical version of this beloved classic I’ve owned, so how is it my favorite over the likes of Ocarina of Time, and even A Link to the Past?  Pardon me while I ramble about various things in the game.

To start with, it didn’t start out as my favorite, I loved the game when I played it, but I wasn’t sure it was my favorite back in the day.  One day, about a year or so before the release of the Virtual Console version, I came across a blog on a Zelda fan site.  After reading through the blog, I realized just how much care and love and backstory and lore were placed in Termina, a world doomed, a world you spend only three days in (even if it’s over and over).  It was then I realized that Majora’s Mask was my favorite.  It took what was familiar with the Zelda series and went into an all new structure (that even today has not been replicated, it truly is unique) with the darkest and most mature story in not only the series but quite possibly in most of gaming. 

The article that made me realize this game was my favorite. "The Message of Majora's Mask"

Sure, we have had ‘dark’ games before.  A game where you and your partner, the last two of a rare, elite group of fighters dedicated to fighting and ending an uprising of dark creatures led by a demon?  Been there.  A game where the game area is destroyed by nuclear war or radiation and mankind is trying to survive in this new and overly hostile world?  Yup.  How about a game where the end is imminent at all times, where the people of the world are all divided and even fighting with each other out of doubt and self-regret over their past mistakes?  With Majora’s Mask, you got that.

Majora’s Mask is dark, but it also knows that along with dark, other things can happen.  A game can be dark, but also have humor in it (Tingle, despite his creepiness as a 38 year-old “forest fairy” is quite a humorous character in a world like Termina).  It knows to have touching moments, to give your quest meaning, to give it reason to keep going (a certain mask is the best example of this).  You have personal investment in saving the world, because of the way you are introduced, you are given a personal stake in the events because the hero is attacked, robbed, transformed, and shown just how evil the force poisoning the world is.  The player decides to stop them not only to return to normal, but also because now that the evil of this world went after you, you have the want to bring the force to justice, which means saving Termina while doing so, and the best way to do that is to help others, learn from their lives, and grow stronger with the experiences gained from helping them.

The world itself also feels more believable in terms of detail.  Hyrule Field, while amazing for when Ocarina of Time released, was also kind of…empty.  Termina by comparison might be smaller, but it’s more detailed, each area shows off the history of the world and gives you a feeling of “this world has been here, and has been lived in,” especially with the ancient, dead kingdom that occupies the Ikana Canyon.  This also goes into the gameplay.  Majora’s Mask only has the four dungeons, and the items you get for the miniboss fights are the bow and elemental arrows.  All of the other items you acquire over the course of the quest all come from elsewhere, so their use is incorporated into the actual world design.  You can’t access Snowhead without the bow, or Ikana without the hookshot for instance.

There is also of course the very core of the game too, the masks.  Termina is a land that celebrates and treasures masks.  Some of the most important events have some form of mask to go with them.  We only see 27 masks over the course of the game (you get 24 if you do the side quests, the sun and moon masks, and then the villain, Majora’s Mask itself) and each serves some form of purpose, or has some meaning to the person who gives it to you.  Every mask you get, except for the Giants mask and Fierce Deity Mask is either a quest reward for helping someone, a tool to use to help accomplish something (that usually ends with another mask or item of importance) or both.

Then there’s the themes of the game as well.  Many point to the idea of death and the five stages of grief, and it’s a neat theory, however I prefer the one listed in the article linked above.  So much of the game is about helping people, healing the problems, healing the land itself.  While you eventually have to go back in time and reset it all, the tools you acquire, the masks you gain, these are all permanent markers of your progress, and of the changes you’ve made to the world, somehow, some way, you get to keep these when you go through time, so somehow a piece of that change comes with you.  Sure if you reset after helping Romani defend the ranch against aliens and don’t help she’ll get abducted and lobotomized, but yet, when you do finally save the world, you see she’s ok, all the help you do across the game, all the faith you instill, it carries over in the end, allowing all you’ve done to help Termina actually have meaning.    For me, Majora’s Mask is more about healing and having faith in those around you, being brave enough to help when help is needed, and not the idea of death (although it is in there for sure, I just don’t think it’s the main focus).

Overall, Majora’s Mask is a special game to me.  Following Ocarina of Time, a patent office for the gaming medium in a cartridge, there really wasn’t any way for Nintendo to top it, so allowing Aonuma to go off the rails and go crazy brought out a game that may have used a bunch of the same assets and similar controls, but it was a unique experience that is far more memorable than the story of Ocarina of Time (and that is no slam on OoT, that game was fantastic).  Bizarre, touching, haunting, creepy, genuinely scary, bleak, unusual, deep, and gratifying are all words I’d use to describe it.  Majora’s Mask is a masterpiece, and I’m overjoyed that the game is getting a second chance to get the love and acclaim it was too early for in 2000.

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Oh boy, I can already tell this blog’s comments section could get ugly.  It seems like mentioning this game just about anywhere causes drama, flame wars, insults and who knows what other dickery from any possible side of just about every viewpoint possible.  This piece should be seen as my own personal viewpoint on this game and the company behind it, as it is for me to talk about my time having known about Starbound and Chucklefish.  I would like to note now that this is my personal opinion, and I could get some facts wrong.  Many of the events that have transpired during this game’s development have made some people see things differently than others, or me and in this situation; it literally is the case of personal thought on the matters.  As such, my feelings below and the terminology I use are mine alone on this topic.  So without further ado, let’s get started with a simple question for those not in the know…

 Also one extra note, sorry for the lack of pictures, this blog I feel, while long, doesn't lend itself well to having a bunch of screenshots I'd haveto go take.

 

Who the heck are Chucklefish?

Chucklefish are British independent game developer and publisher consisting of approximately 11 members.  Currently they have two games in development, their first, Starbound, and a second project currently in early development, being made by four of the team members called Wayward Tide.  Chucklefish is also a publisher for independent games such as Risk of Rain, Wanderlust, or (my personally most anticipated indie game CF is publishing) Stardew Valley.  With this information in mind, it is time to begin looking into my history with the main show for Chucklefish, Starbound.

 

I will admit right here and now that I never really clicked with Terraria.  Sure some of the weapons were neat to fling around and the soundtrack was cute but something about it, that I can’t put my finger on always held me back from just totally enjoying myself.  Maybe it was something with how the combat felt, or how you had to mine one tiny….tiny block at a time, or had to make a separate wall piece for the back of your structures.  I don’t know but while the game was fun, it just never clicked like Minecraft did. 

 

What is my history with the development of Starbound?

It was mid-2012 when I first heard of Starbound, though for the life of me I don’t remember where.  I want to say it was from Destructoid, but I honestly don’t remember.  What I do remember is eventually finding my way to the site, and the lighting demo, and that piqued my interest.  As the weeks came and went, and more details emerged, I began to get excited for the project.  After all it looked similar to Terraria (With the project lead, Tiy, being one of the artists on the original Terraria) in many ways, except it also felt different from it, even when looking at the videos.  The sprites were larger, it felt more carefully animated than Terraria (seriously, whenever I walk in that game I feel like I have three legs from how the sprite is animated) and it was set in space.

Space games and I go together you see, I have loved the idea of exploring space and different planets in video games for a long time, sadly Privateer was before my time and patience to play it had come, so I missed out on that classic.  My first true love of the open space game would probably be Freelancer, my word that game is awesome. Evochron Mercenary would follow.   Being an almost entirely solo effort indie game featuring a fully open galaxy for you to do whatever in (really, you can travel from one end of the game’s space area to the other on conventional drives alone with no loading times, though that would take a really, REALLY long time).  The game was also the first time I experienced being able to freely fly down to a planet and explore the surface without needing to load a new map, but I’m getting off track here.

Anyway, Starbound had the exploration/survival thing in space, which helped the idea click in my head and make me wait anxiously for pre-orders to come up.  In April 2013, they did as a crowd funding, Kickstarter like style, which also doubled as your pre-order for the finished title.  On the 17th, I placed my own order in, and then the waiting game began, would we get to play the early beta that summer?  Oh, it would be awesome.  That awesome however did not happen, at least not in summer.  Turned out Chucklefish had bitten off more than they could chew, and went basically completely quiet for a few months, which brought about concern and ire from quite a few members of the community (I was vocal about this too, though not in a hateful way.)

Come November, Chucklefish had started talking again and they decided to change their estimated release date of 2013 to only having the beta out in that year.  Considering they were so sure they would have the game out that year, many of us voiced our concern with the sudden change.  My opinion feels like CF got in over their heads with this project, a huge, procedurally generated universe exploration game is quite the vast idea, and with a new-start company and small team working on it, there was no way the game was going to be ready, and so we waited.  In late November the beta plan was released.  The idea was to have it in three stages, the first stage being quick and relentless updates to the game, the second stage would be more stable, but have regular updates, with the third stage being the final push to finish the base experience.

Chucklefish asked the community to decide how to do this.  Taking into consideration that a DRM-Free version of the game is to be made, but patching it there and on Steam would be quite the hassle, so they put up a vote in the official forums, where having Steam be the only version until at least stage two was preferable, since updating would be easier that way.  Therefore, the game went to the Steam Early Access program.  The real surprise came on December 4th, when the beta went up.  The game was rough around the edges, but for the groundwork, it was quite enjoyable.

For a while, updates did come quick, hot fixes, stability, optimization fixes, they all came with great speed, the issues were that each update was large, about 500MB due to the files having to be replaced, and the fact that many of the updates wiped saves, so players had to start over.  While this understandably upset people, the developers did make it clear that wipes would happen during this time, as is the case with a game still in heavy development.  As the updates came, people started to complain more, so the updates became slower but more content came with each.  Sadly the populace couldn’t be satisfied, so CF made the choice to stop updating on either the Stable branch and Unstable branch altogether, focusing on getting what they want in a 1.0 release done, eventually starting up a nightly branch,  so players could see and test out the new stuff as it was worked on. 

Therefore, from about April on, the game saw no updates to the two main branches, which caused even more hatred from people, especially on the Steam forums, since the devs seem to basically ignore those forums.  Personally, I think not doing any updates during this time was a large mistake on their part, since they were overhauling the combat and things, these new core features, once finished, should have been pushed out to unstable and eventually stable as soon as possible.  Not helping this gap in updates was the fact the entire time moved to their new office space, some coming from other countries.

As of this writing, the unstable branch has gotten the big update, what will become 1.0 once all the content is complete.  (The core mechanics and features are in, but some balancing, tweaking, optimizing needs to be done, along with putting the true content where there are currently placeholders.)  It took 8 months to get this update, but it is on its way, and hopefully it will be pushed to stable soon.  Now some people say “Oh but the modders already did this but better!”  To that I say, “When HASN’T a modder made something better than the default game.”  This is especially true in the Elder Scrolls games, modding is what keeps those games alive and loved by so many.  Anyway this is the my personal explanation of the history of Starbound’s development (I know I left out a couple things, like Omni’s meltdown, but that’s another thing I’d rather not look up to type more on, there’s already enough here at over 1000 words already and I haven’t even talked about the game itself yet.)

 

So, what is my opinion on the game in both the stable and unstable state?

To answer this question I must first mention the game’s price point.  The lowest tier (Pixel) on the official website (with the purchase handled by the folks of humble bundle) costs $15 USD.  For that money a person gets access to the beta (A steam key), a DRM-Free copy when they finally bring that out, and the soundtrack.  As a soundtrack junkie, the OST alone is worth the price, it is a wonderful soundtrack that the current version (I thankfully saved the previous version, with has a bunch of removed experimental tracks in it) has 60 tracks to it clocking in at an impressive 5.7 hours of music.

As for the game itself, well… the stable branch is still bare bones, what is there is a building/survival/exploration sandbox with multiple planets and a couple bosses.  The basic, rough framework is there, and it’s fun, but the last year hasn’t been easy on it.  The unstable branch however is a different story.  It’s like a new game, there’s actually goals in the beginning now, and the framework has been redone to better resemble a game, and even some of the content is now in.  It’s finally starting to take shape, and soon it will be at the point where it can be called 1.0, however that’s not the end, as Tiy has already said that new stuff will be made for a year after 1.0 hits (which is when the stretch goals of pets and fossils will be added).  It has been a rough year for Starbound, but things are finally starting to improve with this latest update.

I will be the first to admit that Chucklefish haven’t handled things perfectly during the last two years.  They have made many mistakes, from putting out a confident guess for the final game’s release, going silent for months, to many other things. They are starting to improve I believe.  The main site is updated almost every day with new information on the current developments for the game, and with this update now in unstable, it’s close to finally hitting the big 1.0, and I can’t wait.  I understand the anger people have with Chucklefish, and I fully can see where they are coming from.  I’ve gotten mad at them too over the last couple years, but in my mind, as long as I get a 1.0 Starbound, (and fossils and pets later on), I’ll be happy, as that is what I purchased with my pre-order (I did get mine before it went to early access, sadly things changed a bit with this transition).  My main hope is that Chucklefish learns from this game’s development, and learn how to do things better with future projects, and hopefully all those people who are angry with CF, but love Starbound, will be able to look at all this and see it as a new company’s growing pains.

I will close with the following statement to Chucklefish, who I am sure won’t read this:

“Chucklefish, while you’ve angered me in the past, and I have been vocal on the forums of your mistakes, mostly in the missed 2013 date (which I don’t call a lie personally but I do understand why people think that way on this), I have given you the benefit of the doubt because I love Starbound.  It is an amazing thing and I can’t wait to see it done.  However, this game’s rocky development is your one shot with me, if this kind of thing happens again with your future projects, like Wayward Tide, I will not be afraid to say that Starbound will be my only Chucklefish developed game.  Consider this your friendly warning.” (I still cannot wait for Stardew Valley though.)

 Anyway, I think that is about all I can say on the matter now.  It didn’t turn out like I formulated in my mind, but then again my original idea was going to point out every mistake I feel CF made and put my thoughts on how I would have done things differently.  Aside from not announcing an estimate on anything more than the beta, and released a couple updates to help shape the stable branch’s core to the current unstable version’s set, there’s not a lot I can really say beyond being more vocal about things.

If you are still with me all the way down here than thank you for taking your time to read this rambling thing, I just hope this doesn’t spawn a series of arguments or insults to anyone.

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(I wrote this in the span of around 90 minutes during my Database Design and Theory class [Why are you looking at me like that?  I STILL PAYED ATTENTION TO THE LECTURE!] of my personal impressions of the game based on my experiences.  I'm just putting them here to give my blog a new entry.  No screenshots with this one as it seems all screenshots taken from Steam or built in game screenshot taker makes the colors look fugly.)

“You have joined the Hollow Moon, now go acquire some exotic goods from the local merchants, and give the goods to the needy folks around here.”  This was the start of a quest that would give me the feels in one of the segments during one of my sessions in “The Elder Scrolls Online” by Zenimax Online and published by Bethesda.  My character, a Khajiit Dragon Knight named Reina, who uses a destruction staff for her secondary weapon set, had arrived in this little place in the Grahtwood zone (this is, including the starter area of Khenarthi’s Roost, the third zone for the Aldmeri Dominion) and came across a group of Robin Hood style thieves by the name of the Hollow Moon.  Taking up the quest, I got the exotic goods and then went around to find those who needed the goods.
 
I gave a set to a guy in line who was obviously mentally not there, unlike the other two in that line, he legitimately looked and sounded like he needed the stuff.  The other two were not there due to need, one lied about being married and having a kid and the other… well I’ll just use her words “I’m here because this is where they hand out the free stuff and I want my share.”  So yeah, I didn’t give any to these two.  I gave 3 more of the five sets away, but the one that got me was the very first set I gave away.  It got me engaged in the quest, and earned my respect for a well written piece.
 
I walked up to a make-shift shelter kind of off to the side of the settlement, and on a mat was a Khajiit laying on it, he didn’t look to good.  His wife tells me that he had been a Skooma addict for three years, but had recently quit.  Now before I continue, I should mention what Skooma is for those reading this who don’t know what it is.  Skooma is a drug in the world of the Elder Scrolls that can cause some serious issues.  Anyway, this Khajiit was suffering from a severe case of the “Skooma Shakes,” which is one of the more problematic side effects of the drug.  The wife told me that he probably wouldn’t make it through the night, and so I gave her some of the exotic goods.  She thanked me and mentioned that she should be able to trade them to the local alchemist for a potion that will help him survive.  I felt like a good person for the first time in an MMO because I got absorbed into the quest.  Here’s the real kicker about this though.  My entire interaction with the Khajiit wife had a bug where none of the voice acting played.  I read the text the entire time, and it was still enough to make me feel proud of the actions my character had just taken.
 
If it isn’t obvious by now, I am really enjoying The Elder Scrolls Online.  It isn’t a perfect experience, the launch has been pretty rough, there have been many bugs (luckily I haven’t run into that many of them), and bots are currently a problem, even so the lore, the combat, and the game’s world are enough to keep me entertained, something “World of Star Wars: The Old Republic” couldn’t do.  Unlike that game, I have yet, in my nearly 3 weeks and 5 days of game time, to feel like I’m obligated to log in and play, despite the monthly sub.  This was a feeling I got early on with TOR, and it drove me away from the game even bore my 3 months of subscription was up.  It felt too similar to the many, many other MMORPGs I had tried out.  ESO does some things differently, and the land of Tamriel added to that is what keeps me going in that game and having fun (well that and being a member of a fantastic guild, the AJSA).
 
In my currently 22 levels worth of gameplay, I have travelled across three zones, not including the few times I’ve been to Coldharbour, the realm of Oblivion dedicated to the Daedric Prince of trickery, domination, and slavery, Molag Bal.  Each zone, from the bright, slightly eastern theme of Khenarthi’s Roost, to the more colorful and majestic Summer Set Isle known as Auridon, and more recently, the swamplands of Grahtwood, I have been in public dungeons, taken part in the closing of many Dolmens (the dark anchors Molag Bal is using in attempt to fuse Tamriel/Mundus to Coldharbour, thanks to the work of the future Worm King, the necromancer Mannimarco… I love the lore in the Elder Scrolls), read many books that enrich the lore and faced off against many kinds of creatures, and nothing felt boring or forced.  I’ve enjoyed every second of it, aside from the rare occasions I’ve hit bugged quests that held me back for a bit, but I’ve only run into 3 I know for sure of.
 
This game has done something no other MMORPG has ever been able to do for me.  This game has made the PVP content enjoyable for me.  I’m not that great at most Player-Vs-Player content in many games, so when I hopped into PVP on ESO, I expected to do it once, and not really touch it again.  How wrong I was.  The last two Saturdays, and the one coming up as I write this, my guild has been doing PVP events where many guild members meet up and do what we can to sway the map in our favor.  Every time I’ve been in PVP it’s been a blast, with the siege weapons, the mass of people, the fear of the enemy Emperor, it’s an awesome component of the game, and I can see coming back for it when I’m out of PVE content to do.
 
The soundtrack is fantastic, as all games bearing the Elder Scrolls name are, with the title theme having been composed by the legendary Jeremy Soule, while the rest was done by other people, as well as a vocal piece done by the wonderful Malukah.  Sound effects are good, animations are, as odd as it is to say it, some of the better done animations seen in an ES game.  The beast races (Argonian, Khajiit) have obviously seen more love than the single player games, with tails that animate differently on each, and move more believable, and in the case of the Khajiit, eyes that just glow when the light hits them right.  The graphics (in my opinion) are very nice, sun shafts, decent amount of detail, gorgeous specular mapping, it all adds up to an attractive package to me.
 
If I had to give the game a numerical score (which I’m not, not officially anyway) I’d give it an 8.  While I can understand the dislike, disappointment, and the lower scores for people who have encountered a lot of bugs, in my experience I’ve had a fairly smooth running game that gives me what I was expecting out of it, an MMORPG with the Elder Scrolls setting, and aside from the bug fixes, player homes and more content to keep me a subscriber, I can’t really ask for more than I have.  (It also helps that I got the Physical Imperial Edition, not for the digital extras, hell I haven’t used my Pledge of Mara yet… But for the FANTASTIC art/lore book that came with it.  Oh and I guess the statue of Molag Bal is nice too.)
 
ESO is a hard game to just recommend, it must be approached with the correct mindset.  If you don’t like MMOs, or for some reason are turned off by subscription prices to a game that costs full price (like WoW, SW:TOR and others when they first came out), hate the Elder Scrolls series, or can’t stand bugs in a game at launch, then you won’t like this game.  If you like the Elder Scrolls, and MMORPGs, and go into the game expecting “Skyrim with more players” you WILL be disappointed and not like it.  It must be gone into with the mindset of “it is still an MMO first, and it takes place in Tamriel.”  Even then however, the game just might not be for you, nothing wrong with that.  I will say this though, it is NOT fact that the game sucks, that is a subjective view.  It may suck for you, but not for others, and as to you thinking if it is a waste of money or not, and you like to tell people that, I’d like to quote the words of Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw to end this little thing.
 
“I’d rather be stupid and having fun than be bored out of my genius mind.”








Today marks 2 years to the day that Skyrim released.  I wanted to do something for it, and so I typed down some ramblings on my feelings of the game and series, and here it is.  Happy 2nd Birthday Skyrim.

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Has it really been two full years since players were first allowed to set foot in post-Septim Skyrim?  Obviously, the answer is yes, but it sure doesn’t seem it like it should be, at least in my opinion.  To celebrate the second anniversary of what is possibly my favorite game of this current generation, I thought I would write this piece about both the game as well as my love for this wonderful series.  I intend to share my feelings on both over the course of this probably mediocre blog.
 
Series History:

My first exposure to the series of The Elder Scrolls came from a PC Gamer demo disc way back in 1994.  We had had our first pc for less than a year (An old Canon computer bought from the then still around Future Shop) and had been getting the magazine regularly since.  The disc contained a demo of Daggerfall, the second game in the series.  I was still too young for my mind to grasp what a computer RPG really was, and wouldn’t for another few years.

I wouldn’t see anything beyond that demo, or even of the series until the Game of the Year edition of Morrowind first released.  My cousin got it for Christmas and gave me his original copy.  I admit, however, that I never could get into it due to the combat issues everyone has when trying the game the first time (the idea of missing so badly with a sword at low levels, patience wasn’t something I had a lot of back then).  It wasn’t until Oblivion that I really got into the series, although I borrowed a copy near release for a day to try it out (and being too stupid to realize that I had to exit where the assassin came in to get out of the passage), I didn’t play it for long.   Oblivion I knew was a special game, and I bought the Game of the Year edition when it became available and have easily pumped out 200+ hours in the game.  I even hunted down a collector’s edition for the extras disc, coin and even the original T rating.

I would return to Vvardenfell in 2010 when I purchased Morrowind GotY edition during the winter sale of the time.  While I haven’t beaten the main quest lines of Tribunal or Bloodmoon due to save corruption and having to start over, I realized after just a few hours of play just what I had missed those years ago when I shelved the base version given to me.  I enjoy Morrowind enough that I consider it tied with one other title in terms of quality for the series, however it would not be my favorite of the series, after all, I didn’t write an entire blog for Morrowind or Oblivion’s anniversaries.

It was 10PM on November 10, 2011.  My sister, best friend and I drove down to our local GameStop to pick up our collector’s editions of Skyrim (my sister and myself, my friend has yet to get this game, finally having purchased and played Oblivion earlier this year).  There were many people there, all relaxing and talking, some brought soda to share with the group, those of us who had been at PAX just about a month prior had our plush helmets on.  All that was missing was song and a fire and it would have been exactly like a gathering you would have expected in the game.  Once midnight rolled around, they started handing out the game.  Very few picked up the CE of the game, but those who did held it over their heads with pride after walking out of the store, it was truly something special to behold.  I actually didn’t play the game a whole lot launch day, the release event had drained me, and it wasn’t really until November 12 that I really started playing.

The generation defining game for me:

For me, Skyrim is the best experience I’ve had this generation.  No it isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t hit every right note, but for me the game shows how Bethesda can build a world like no other… that and the wonderful modding community on the PC, that helps too.  I understand not everyone will agree with me, and I know some people will call my opinions bullshit because they don’t like the game.  That’s fine; they’re welcome to their opinions just as much as I am to mine.

The Elder Scrolls series, and Skyrim more than others for me, has been more along the lines of “here’s a world, make your own story within it.”  Sure, there are main quests and side quests, but no two play-throughs will ever be the exact same, even if you do the same quests at the same time with the same builds.  The feeling of playing the character I want to be, imposing my own rules on what my character does and does not do, is part of this fun of carving out my character’s story in the vast expanse of Skyrim.  For instance my character (generally I prefer playing a Spellsword Khajiit) is limited to light armor, never steals, never knowingly conducts an evil act, and only wears armors she herself crafts.  I mean, how is it that banded iron armor the huge Nord was wearing fits my smaller, thinner Khajiit without adjustment?



To me the province of Skyrim is amazing to look at.  While not as fantastical as Vvardenfell or the Shivering Isles, Skyrim provides the sense of wonder and exploration that Oblivion lacked to some degree.  I blame this mostly on the fact that Cyrodiil, while beautiful in its own right, feels too close to ‘home’ to really provide that true sense of fantasy.  Skyrim has this, although through the eyes of a Viking wonderland, and for some reason it works.  The honor over everything attitude the Nords have is admirable for the player, it’s not what is said or how much coin is made, it is about the actions, proving the character can come through that matters to those in the frozen north.

If it is one thing Morrowind had well over Skyrim, it is the options for character equipment.  Back in the days of Morrowind a player could wear the following all at once: Shirt, pants, Cuirass, Greaves, Boots/shoes (beast races couldn’t, more on that later), left glove, right glove, left pauldron, right pauldron, and helm (beast races couldn’t wear closed-face helms).  Newer games have it where it’s clothes, or armor, not both.  When wearing armor it’s body, feet, head and hands, more restrictive, but at the same time, modders have enabled many more slots, the bandolier mod allows the player to wear a staggering 7 pouches that have their own slots, and a backpack, so maybe this feature will return to future titles, it not by Bethesda themselves, then by modding.  As stated though, beast races (Khajiit and Argonian) couldn’t wear any footwear in vanilla Morrowind or wear closed-faced helmets.  This is because the races had digitigrade legs, and therefore were farther away from human than the current versions.  Modders are working on this, and I can’t wait to see the completed version.



The soundtrack is another reason why Skyrim is such an important part of my gaming library.  I’ve been a fan of Jeremy Soule’s work since Morrowind, even before I got into Oblivion.  Skyrim has some of the most beautiful tracks of the series.  While I will always prefer “Nerevar Rising” as the theme for the series, I hold the song “Streets of Whiterun” to be one of the best musical pieces on all 4 discs of the soundtrack, though the entire thing is worth a listen to outside of the game.

The Streets of Whiterun to this day is in all my playlists.

Graphically, Skyrim is pretty.  It’s not mind blowing by default, low resolution textures do hurt the game but the art style is very appealing.  The armor designs are great (especially with the AMidianBorn Book of Silence mod) and the world, even with some technical flaws, is highly detailed.  Shadows however are the game’s weakest point, I don’t know what Bethesda Game Studios was thinking, but even at the highest resolution, the shadows aren’t pretty without modding.  To make matters worse, the shadows made by the sun’s light move in increments.  Ini tweaking can fix this and make the movement better, but I hope the next game gets a jump in shadow quality and movement.

Like I said though, even though Skyrim does have some faults, in some cases fairly big ones, the overall experience, the stories my characters have made, the NPCs interacted with, the harrowing battles and dangerous traps, ruins explored, it all adds up to an experience that I have yet to see equaled by any game that isn’t named Morrowind.  While I enjoy games from every genre, and deeply love many series out there like the Legend of Zelda, Mario, Final Fantasy (9 and down mostly), and the ‘shock’ series, the Elder Scrolls always seems to give me the most investment and joy while playing.  At the moment of writing this, I have 422 hours according to Steam logged on Skyrim, and while it may not be much compared to other players, it is still the most time I’ve spent on a single game, and in fact more than any games belonging to a single series combined.

I wanted to close this with some magical quote to end this blog on a note that truly reflects my love for the game, however I can’t simply write it down, as the one that truly inspired me to write this cannot be captured in just text, so I’ll link it below.  It’s talking about a mod that adds a cabin outside of Riverwood, but it captures my feelings so well in the tone that I had to use it.

The Quote. Thank you Gopher for your Skyrim Mod Sanctuary series. This one minute is what inspired this whole thing.


Thank you Bethesda for a game that has lasted me an amazing two years and probably will last another two or more.
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Revenile
6:59 PM on 07.12.2013

I know it has been a long time since March, but even after all this time I can still safely say that Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is one of the most satisfying and rewarding games that I have ever played, completely loaded with fist pumping awesome moments.  As a newcomer to Capcom’s series of hunting great beasts, I thought I would give my reasons as to why this game is so engaging to me.  There is no order to this and this isn’t a review, Projared on Youtube pretty much sums up my feelings pretty well in his full review (even if his One Minute Review on it is priceless.).  Please note however, aside from the demo, my entire experience with MH3U is from the 3DS version, as after extensive run-throughs on the demo I found out I did better there with the inputs there.  That and the 3D is amazing on this title.  In addition, I have not played multiplayer yet, I shall make it a point to at PAX Prime 2013, but all of this is based on my solo experience.
 
The Mighty Prey

We’ll start with the real stars of the game themselves, the creatures the player hunts.  Ranging from little to colossal, every creature looks unique, and each fight is just as unique as the looks, even the sub-species are unique in this regard, since they are more than just a pallet swap.  Each creature is animated with very convincing animations, putting the player right in the midst of the fight.  Attacks feel appropriately heavy, flinging your poor armored hunter around like he or she is an insect.  While some would disagree, I also am of firm belief that the complete lack of any kind of HUD item for your target is an excellent move on the developer’s part.   It adds to the tension of the fight having to look at your target, and assess how badly hurt it is.  Details can be as little as the battle damage if the player repeatedly hits certain points, or the creature attacking slower.  Is it drooling?  That means it’s exhausted and a perfect opportunity to go offensive.  Like a real hunter, it’s up to the player to figure out how well they are doing against each beast.
 
The Hunter’s Choice

Another aspect that makes this game so rewarding is the hunter is what you want to put into them.  Choose one (or switch between a couple favorites) of the 12 available weapons, set up your armor, and go do things, how the player builds up their hunter, from what weapon upgrades to get, which armor to forge, it’s totally free for the player to decide.  Even to a lesser extent, the preparations for the hunts, as my last point will explain, preparation is one of the three keys to success.
 
 
Bringing Down the Beast

 This is where the satisfaction really comes from.   Taking down the larger monsters, especially ones the player has not hunted before takes great preparation, and fast adaption to the situation as the battle goes on, using the visual changes in the monster’s appearance and behavior to decide how to act next.  It’s a game about knowledge about your tools, and your skill with them.   One mistake can mean all the difference between a true victory or being sent back to base camp and having that reward reduced, or even failing the mission outright.  To some, an even bigger thrill is in successfully capturing the monster instead of ending its life.  Capturing requires even more thought and reliance on observing the target’s behavior in the fight to pull off, but the material rewards are well worth it.  For me there is an immense feeling of pure awesome when I see the fall of a dead monster or successfully pull off a capture, and then using the materials to craft new gear for the next great hunt.
 

Monster Hunter is a world full of wonder, danger, and adventure.  If one can get past the slow beginning and the learning curve, this is definitely a series worth checking out.  Hunt on my friends!  The next great beast awaits!








NOTE: I DO plan to update this blog as we get farther into the year.  This blog, as it is written now, only accounts for 2 weeks worth of gameplay.  Thank you for the understanding.

June 9th, 2013 is an important date.  No, there wasn't anything that involved the fate of the world, or some great discovery that would benefit mankind.  No, June 9th is the day that I became mayor of the little forest village of Moonlit.  Not by choice mind you, I was kind of screwed into it by the real successor, but I took to the position in stride.  June 10th was just as important, as that was the day my job as mayor began, when I would claim the chair in Town Hall as my own and make Isabelle my personal secretary.  It has been two weeks and 3 days since I became mayor, and I thought I would share my first impressions on my new life and the discoveries I have made.



The Mayor has good eyes and ears

I’ll start with the first thing anyone will really notice upon turning on the game, the presentation.  The first five minutes were weird to me, I wasn’t used to seeing my old friend Rover the cat having…well fur.  I also wasn’t used to having thighs either, but now I can’t see myself without them.  After getting used to things, the game looks great for an Animal Crossing game, much better than City Folk in fact.  There are new textures that add things like fur, fabric, and even a nice shine on the grass in the distance.  Water has also seen a nice bump in graphical appearance, looking more realistic in this game than the almost cell shaded look in the past.   Other nice environmental looks are the clouds; they roll in, blot out the sky and hang there until the weather changes. 



In 3D, the rain effects look great as well. (Please note two things here, this is my opinion in terms of the 3D effect, your mileage will vary on this.  Also, I have not seen any other weather effects, obviously.)  The rolling world effect used since Animal Crossing: Wild World on the DS also really looks appealing when the slider is bumped up.  Animations are what one would expect from the series (seriously, this is the one game where the simple animations add to the charm).

On the sound front, the new theme is very nice and inviting (although I will hold WW/City Folk’s theme forever in my heart.) and many of the new hourly songs are nice.  Some old favorites return, like the catchy Able Sisters theme, and the Museum’s relaxing loop that changes depending on which exhibit you are visiting also makes a return.  Along with the classic K.K. Slider song performances (and the versions played in a music player) all new remix versions exist, and the songs I have personally heard sound like great new additions to the New Leaf soundtrack.

Sound effects are well… to be honest there’s nothing really new here, Animal Crossing has always had a distinct sound, and nothing really changes here, but that’s not a bad thing, like the simple animations, the sound adds charm,.  The villager voices may get annoying to you though, and I have yet to find a way to disable it, so just be warned there.



New Leaf, new stuff

I’ll avoid going into too much detail on the new items (as there are WAY too many to count) so we’ll stick with the new features.  Being mayor means the town is built the way YOU want it to be.  The opening moments have you choose from one of four town layouts (though resetting the game and starting over gives you four new choices).  After some initial stuff (involving the new tutorial that Isabelle helps you through, and then getting to 100% approval rating, which will take a couple days), the player can then start building public works wherever they want, even their house is built where they want it.  Along with the building aspect, ordinances can be put in place, things like keeping the town beautiful, raising the prices on everything (and thus giving you more bells for sales as well), to changing the hours of the businesses for those who play at odd hours.



Another new feature is Re-tail.  Re-Tail is a combination of the auction house from City Folk and a flea market.  The player can put items up for sale for other villagers, or visitors to purchase at a price set by the item’s owner.  You can also sell items directly to the pink alpaca that runs the place.  After some requirements are met, the blue alpaca, Cyrus, allows you to change some furniture’s colors, as well as make furniture from gems you find from special rocks.

On Main Street, you will find all the essential businesses.  Nookling Junction is the main shop in your town, and sells a special item that uses play coins to buy, fortune cookies.  These magical little cookies give you a fortune that when given back to either Tommy or Timmy, nets you either a Nintendo item (like the Master Sword or Triforce) or a random item.  Naturally, this shop is upgraded as you buy items from them.  The Able Sisters shop is also here. Mabel, Sable and Label work here and this is where you can make and get clothes and accessories. 




Nook’s Homes is where you will upgrade and customize your house.  The Museum needs no explanation, and then there’s the post office.  Later on, new businesses become available, like a flower shop, Shampoodle, Kicks (shoe store) and the wonderful Club LoL, where K.K. Slider performs as normal on Saturday nights, and DJs with remixes on weekdays.
Being on the 3DS, New Leaf also has features that use the system’s features, like the above-mentioned Play Coins.  There is a megaphone that allows the player to speak into the system's microphone the name of a villager, and will (usually, the game keeps thinking that I’m calling for a snowman when I say “Penelope” so I have to shorten the name) have that villager respond to you so you can find them, if they are outside.

Online and StreetPass features are used well on this game.  StreetPass gives you access to the Happy Home Showcase, where you can see (and even order items from) houses of players whom you swapped data with.  On the online side of things, multiplayer returns and is, at least in my tests, lag-free.  A new feature for online is called the Dream Suite, a building which you must pay for that allows you to visit a dream version of someone’s town, and wreak as much havoc as you want without damaging the real town.  (I haven’t built this yet in my town, so I can’t actually test it.  I’ve got a couple projects I want to do before the Dream Suite.)  In addition, fruit stacks (of 9) are now possible, freeing up tons of room in the inventory, which holds 16 items. 

The island also returns, and you can play minigames here for medals that will get you exclusive stuff, like the wetsuit so you can go swimming.

It's the little things that matter
A lot of little details have been added here and there as well.  Things like your character nodding or shaking his head when you answer a question.  The events that happen around the year (so far I've only experienced the Bug-off) also saw a nice little bump, with more characters appearing for the awards ceremony to applaud the winners.



Possibly the one thing that still gets me to smile though is the reactions of the villagers when you pay them a visit.  You enter their house, talk to them like all other games, however when you leave the house, the villager may either wave goodbye (and smile) or bow respectfully to you.  It's little details like this that give this new Animal Crossing more life.
 
Mayor Evaluation:
At $35 USD, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is an adorable little debt simulator that wriggles its way into your heart.  There is so much to see and do that it doesn’t get old as long as you pace yourself, remember, Animal Crossing plays via the 3DS system clock, meaning when someone says “Come back tomorrow” they MEAN come back the next REAL day, unless you cheat and change the clock on your system.  If you have a 3DS and want a game that you can just hang out, relax, fish and see your pals (points for anyone who gets that reference), then I can recommend this title based on what I have experienced. 



If you don’t yet have a 3DS, well if you’re interested and have games coming out later for the system that have you thinking of getting one, this will keep you occupied for quite a while.  If you have played any game in the series before, the gameplay is just as solid, with the new features listed above, and features I haven’t even experienced yet.


Being mayor never felt so good.

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