Monday, January 15, 2018

Review Day: Legenda of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

I have had a tempestuous relationship with the Zelda series over the years, and the ones I tend to like don't always match the ones that receive critical acclaim. A general rule of thumb is that I prefer the 2D games over the 3D ones, motion controls are always dumb, and the more cinematic they are, the worse games they tend to be -- I loved A Link Between Worlds on the 3DS but actually fell asleep a couple times while playing Skyward Sword on the Wii.

After about 20 hours of playtime with Breath of the Wild on the Switch, I remain unconvinced that it's a great game. It's not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination -- it's just not a game that gives me any incentive to keep on playing.

First, the good parts: The world looks great and its physics are well done. There are generally multiple ways to defeat a camp of enemies, from charging in sword swinging, to sneaking up like a Skyrim thief-archer, to waiting until nightfall and dropping a bomb on the explosives stash that is conveniently being used as pillows for the sleeping monsters. There is minimal handholding or "on rails" sections that force you to relearn the same tired lessons like "press this button to jump" or "a red rupee is worth 20 rupees!" You can also skip most cutscenes in the game, including the forgettable backstory scenes that are never worth watching as well as the interminable scenes showing your entrance into one of the 120 shrines on the map.

Breath of the Wild bills itself as an "open world" game in the vein of Skyrim or Fallout 4 but this is a little misleading. It is definitely vast, but feels pretty generic and static. After exploring every inch of the starting area (which is as big as some older games' worlds) I found nothing that would compel me to turn over every rock in future areas, whereas the tiny unique details built into the Skyrim world (like the lighthouse horror story) made me excited to veer off the main quest path at every opportunity. And no, collecting 100% of <useless Zelda collectible> is never a good enough reason.

At its heart, this game is really a cooking simulator with a hardened candy shell of Zelda themes baked around it. The game can be challenging, and cooking foods and elixirs provides temporary buffs to help you out. Unfortunately, there are so many ingredients to gather that you sometimes need to take breaks from the action to run around trees picking mushrooms or catch tiny bugs in the grass.

This leads to one of the key faults that I found with the game -- there are so many distractions from the main plot in the spirit of being "open world" and the world takes so long to travel across that I never really felt like I was making much progress. The distractions themselves are not exciting enough to make it worthwhile (conversely, I probably spent more time playing the Gwent minigame in Witcher 3 than I did on the main quest and was satisfied the whole time). Sure, there are optional puzzle shrines that feel a lot like classic Zelda dungeons, but each one is so short and lacking in character that their loading screens are often longer than the experience (look at the Tomb Raider series' "optional puzzle tomb" implementation for the right way to do things like this). Also, the optional puzzle shrines aren't so optional after all, since you must beat them to get new heart containers or increase your annoyingly low stamina.

Do you remember playing vanilla World of Warcraft and seeing a Silver Vein pop up on your minimap, forcing you to detour from your quest to mine it because it would be OCD madness to just leave it there? That's essentially my entire experience with Breath of the Wild. I'm traveling to the next quest point when my controller starts beeping to notify me of a mandatory optional puzzle shrine. While climbing up some huge mountain to search for it (the annoying beeping has a pretty massive radius so the shrine is not always easily visible) and stopping at various ledges to regain my stamina, I'll see some shiny rocks that I definitely need to blow up in case they contain important ingredients for my cooking experiments. Then I'll see an opal fly out worth several hundred rupees, but the physics engine will launch it off the mountain so I'll have to fly down to grab it.

Then, I don't have enough stamina to get back up the mountain so I'll run off to the nearest pond full of stamina fish or teleport back to the cache of stamina mushrooms in town to cook up a new batch of stamina food. I get back to the mountain but there is now a respawned enemy camp in my way and my last sword just shattered because some game developer ignored thirty years of amassed wisdom in what makes games fun by coding a weapon durability system that crushes your swords and your dreams, and makes you too cautious to ever use the fun, expensive weapons lest they break. So I whistle for my horse to go find a new weapon, but the horse is on the wrong side of the river and cannot swim. Then, Maia wakes up and I have to quit the game to change a diaper, having made zero progress towards my original goal.

Final Grade: C+, a game I would definitely continue to play when there's nothing better to do and the Overwatch servers are down.

tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 1 comment

Friday, January 12, 2018

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

12 pictures of your day on the 12th of every month

7:01 AM: Early morning treadmilling while watching the second season of Humans.
7:35 AM: Showered and ready for a (standard) three-day weekend.
7:59 AM: Some post-breakfast, pre-baby-awakened Overwatch.
8:31 AM: Good morning!
8:49 AM: At the feeding battlestation while I pack for our road trip.
11:37 AM: Finally on the road to Fredericksburg.
2:03 PM: Holding court around 4-month-old Felicity.
4:09 PM: Down with OPT (other peoples' toys).
6:22 PM: Dinner with a baby on.
6:31 PM: Maia allows her royal court to bring her meals and libations. Sydney mourns in the background.
9:15 PM: Anna finally gets to hold the baby after the million kids go to bed.
9:47 PM: Ending the night with a game of Smart Ass.

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 1 comment

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

The Architect by Paloma Faith:
None of Paloma Faith's follow-on CDs has come close to her first, Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful. This new album is pure pop drivel with nothing to stand out from the crowd. Even a spoken word introduction by Samuel L. Jackson can't make it interesting.

Final Grade: C-

Halt and Catch Fire, Season Four:
This show has been hit-or-miss throughout the years, but the fourth and final season provides a very good closer. With organic character growth and strategic time skips (we're now in the 90s), the show writers somehow make every character sympathetic and relatable once again in spite of their tempestuous histories. The pace is sometimes self-indulgently slow (lots of tracking and reaction shots), but it generates a lot of good will and wraps the story up well. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B

Day of the Dog by Bliss n ESO:
This is one of Bliss n ESO's early albums (2006). Because these albums are expensive to import from down under, I generally just ask for one every Christmas. The energy is high but the mixes aren't as good as they eventually become on later albums. The balance between crass and uplifting lyrics also veers heavily towards crass throughout.

Final Grade: C+

Overwatch Anthology, Volume I:
This is a hardbound copy of all the origin comics that were released in the Overwatch universe. Though all of them are free online, it's nice to have them in paper form with text that can easily be read without zooming in on a PDF file.

Final Grade: B

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Monday, January 08, 2018

2018 Plans

2017 was a year of trial and error, between dipping my toes in the shoals of a software startup and figuring out how to take care of a small human while still maintaining a minimally viable amount of health, wealth, and leisure time. Now that our six-month trial period has ended and we are truly in charge of growing the Maian Empire, 2018 will be all about stabilization and process improvement. Here are some of the changes I expect to make this year:

  • Consume more new content: Movies, shows, albums, games -- I'm not picky about what I'll consume, but I'll make sure that I'm not just rereading old books or playing Overwatch all of the time. It is very easy (and fun) to make a game of Overwatch be the mortar between the bricks of baby care in my schedule, but it tends to introduce a feeling of sameness across days that already sometimes seem too similar. I would also like to read new books as my vocabulary is getting a little rusty -- I have "what is that word that means ____?" moments far more often than I used to.

  • Get back on the treadmill: After five straight years of maintaining a minimum of 2 hours per week jogging, treadmill time petered out at the end of 2017, such that I only used it 1 time in the month of December. Though the extra exercise is not strictly necessary since my smallest pants have started to fall off my hips from just walking Maia around the forest and mall, this will be a good way to have some extra solo time and watch some new TV shows.

  • Learn to play the soprano recorder: I have a recorder and a d'Auberge book which should be sufficient to play nursery rhymes for Maia so she is regularly exposed to annoying music. I will do some trumpet or electric bass at some point too, but the recorder is very portable, reasonably quiet, and doesn't require daily practice to maintain.

  • Try new things in cooking: I have a small pouch of simple recipes that get us through the week but I'd like to do more cooking this year. Rebecca got me the book, Salt Fat Acid Heat, for Christmas which teaches about food science and what happens when you add different ingredients to a pot -- this is perfect for me since I never really follow a single recipe exactly.

  • Don't work more than necessary: Work is going very well and it's nice having specific important assignments to deal with that are done when they're done. I don't need to look busy or seek out new assignments just to fill up 40 hours in the week. I plan to continue the stay-at-home-dad'ing for as long as it's fulfilling and don't plan on working more until I want to. It's also amazing how much money you save when you can no longer go to real sit-down restaurants.

  • Maintain programming skills: Eventually, I'll mix a little programming back into my daily routine. Whether it's continued open-source development or just a daily programming brain teaser, I want to make sure that Microsoft Word doesn't become my most-used application.

What are your plans for 2018?

tagged as lists, day-to-day | permalink | 2 comments

 

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