Thank You Neil

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post of any sort. Close to a year. D’OH!

Time flies when you’re having fun, and in my case, it flew. It soared! And in that fun (work, really, but whatever) this blog faded for awhile.

But at the very least, I can say that I’ve written one entire blog post for 2016 (this post), but not because I felt any pressure to do so. For the first time in a long time, I was inspired to do so. I hope it’s not one-and-only for 2016, but we’ll see.

So I often write about tabletop RPG’s; I run and play in games nowadays. In fact,  I will run an adventure tomorrow at my FLGS, and need to prep for that.

But I digress.

So last night I participated in one of the most fun game sessions of D&D I played in awhile, certainly in recent memory. Long story short, our party engaged in combat with a demonic entity. It was a very tense combat, as half the party went down at some point. But that wasn’t what made it fun for me.

What made it fun was that there were so many revelations. Many of them were silly and came out of some free-flowing, organic narrative soup, where it started with the correct / incorrect name and snowballed from there. Here they are, in no particular order. As a note, while I list these, I will try to provide context so you, the reader, can hopefully understand.

1.) The name of the big bad of the week, or at least the name our party of a-holes (we are definitely a bunch of jerks!) believes to be true.

So this is how the session began last night. I’m paraphrasing due to my poor memory.

Demon Guy: You will all serve me now!

Party Leader: And who is the name of the person we may serve, for a fee of course?

Demon Guy: KNEEL!

The Rest Of Us: Neil? Your name is Neil?! Oh, that’s a…won…der..ful name. Neil!

…and combat ensues. For the rest of this campaign, this Demon Guy who we later find out is a fallen Paladin that became demonized,…this Demon Guy whom we barely defeated…will always be Neil.

 

2.) Clangeddin is the name of a deity in the Forgotten Realms. No, really.

So our Dwarf Barbarian wields a sentient, magical hammer named ‘Whelm.’ for close to a year now. Whenever he uses the hammer, the hammer screams “CLANGEDDIN!” For this entire time, each and every member of the party assumed it was some Dwarven war-cry of some sort.

So through magical shenanigans I don’t fully understand, our Dwarf destroyed the Big Bad’s source of power (I think) with Whelm, and the room we were in magically transformed into a shrine to Clangeddin. When the DM described the circumstance, including the altar having the symbol of Clangeddin on it, we all looked at each other briefly.

Dwarf Barbarian: Wait…are you saying Clangeddin is a god?

DM: Yes.

Dwarf Barbarian: That’s so awesome!

DM: Wait, you didn’t know?

No. None of us knew. We just thought it was like a war cry of some sort. How did we not know this?

 

3.) Shang-Chi thinks Kesh is fat.

So Shang-Chi (Human Cleric Jock who is not proficient in religion, because he slept through class and got through on natural talent alone,) is not a nice guy. He used to be a nicer guy, but hanging out with this party, combined with other traumatic events has turned him a bit cold and angry.

I mentioned some crazy magical shenanigans in the place we were in. One of the crazy magical shenanigans afflicted Kesh, our grey-skinned Half-Orc Barbarian with a great deal of sadness and apathy. In other words, when combat ensued, he moped around and wouldn’t participate in battle.

So Shang-Chi, played by yours truly, did the only thing he could think: give a back-handed “inspirational” speech. I should also mention that he’s below average on the Intelligence scale.

Shang-Chi: Listen, and listen well you Half-Orc Barbarian Fatty! Snap out of it, and get angry! Rage! If you don’t get angry and start fighting, we will all die here! Do you understand? We will be dead, unless you tap into you fury and start attacking Neil!

On his turn, Kesh proceeded to respond to these words…by giving Shang-Chi a hug.

Take two!

Shang-Chi: We don’t have time for this you damn fatty! Do you want to give up? Do you want to die here? Because that’s exactly what will happen unless you do as I say! Now, go rage and attack our enemies before it’s too late!

It appeared to work the second time around. Kesh finally raged and started doing what he does best, which is crushing our enemies.

For the record, I’m sure Kesh is nothing but a slab of Half-Orc muscle. But in game, Shang-Chi is confident that Kesh needs to lay off the junk food just a bit.

(And off topic, yes the name is a reference to the Marvel comics character.)

 

4.) We love side quests

So as a side quest, we journeyed into the Underdark to retrieve supplies and / or take revenge on raiders that stole supplies. Since then, we have somehow gotten on a side quest off the side quest we were on. Or so I thought. Apparently, we’re on our fourth side quest according to the GM.

At this point, I’m just curious as to how we’ll ever get back onto the main road.

 

5.) We are the Expendables

Honestly, we’re quite the bunch of misfits. I mean, my Cleric was formerly a life domain Cleric, but is now a Death domain Cleric (though technically not evil in alignment; homebrew for the win!) The journey of how this all happened is a post for another time, by the way.

The Wizard / Pirate Captain is a feared celebrity considered to be mad by his fans, hence the name: Mad Barth. The Rogue is a superstitious kleptomaniac. The Half-Orc Barbarian, even before his temporary, magically-afflicted sadness, is perhaps the most civilized barbarian ever conceived. All he needs is a suit and tie. Or a bow tie. Our Dwarf Barbarian is the hairiest being alive, with little plastic / clay miniature elves hanging off his beard. Our Gnome Fighter / Eldritch Knight is probably the most…’normal’ murder hobo among us, and he suffers from amnesia (he has no idea how he got to the surface. He just met up with us one day and decided to hang out.)

I just imagine us as the ‘Lord of the Ring’ B-Team. We’re the guys that were considered to be the Fellowship for maybe less than 10 seconds, before Gandalf and Elrond realized what a horrible idea that was.

But here’s the thing; it actually works for us. We’re flawed to the nines. We’re hardly heroes. We’re mercenary adventurer’s with very little tact and respect for anyone, friend or foe. We’re silly beyond measure. And that’s just fine.

All of this may very well be a ‘You had to be there,’ experience to find and understand the humor in any of this, but for me, it was the most fun, and humorous session as a player I’ve had in awhile. And it’s all thanks to a Demon Guy named Neil.

Game Producer Quest, Part 14

Sony finally made their official Playstation 4 reveal yesterday, which means I can stop calling the formerly-rumored-but-now-official console Orbis.  A couple of posts ago, I thought it’d be fun to make some predictions.  Time to see how I fared, which I’m guessing was rather poorly.

I predicted the following incorrectly:

  • That the PS4 would be officially revealed in full at E3 2013.  Obviously, Sony did their reveal this past Wednesday, so zero points for me here.
  • That the PS4 would be released in Fall of 2014.  Wrong again, as it’s releasing  in the Fall of this year.  Zero points scored.   This surprised me a bit, as I look at the Nintendo Wii U availability.  This isn’t like the original Wii, where it was difficult to find one online or in stores for two plus years.  Right now, I can go to Amazon or Gamestop or Best Buy and buy one.  What this says to me is that consumers are not clamoring for a next-generation console.  Given the state of the economy and unemployment rate, it makes perfect sense in my brain.  Sony (and Microsoft by extension, though the latter has revealed nothing official) could push their next-gen console release with likely little to no loss of potential sales, and do a slow build in terms of interest and hype.  To me, that’s the smartest play one could make.  I should mention though that I am unsure of the gaming scene in Japan or the rest of the world compared to North America.  Perhaps in the East, or other parts of the world, the public is clamoring for a new console?  That’s something else to keep in mind.
  • That the PS4 would be fully backwards compatible.  I had to hunt for this one, and finally found some information on Kotaku.  Apparently, the system will not be backwards compatible, but instead be able to play older games by streaming them from the cloud.  There have been zero details given about playing previously owned games.  Again, zero points for me.  Held scoreless by my own stupidity…D’OH!  On a serious note, the cloud streaming of games is both intriguing and scary.  As a business entity, I have very little doubt in my mind that Sony would love for their consumers to re-buy their old games (i.e. buy it twice).  But this type of behavior does very little to build consumer confidence and loyalty in my opinion.  In one of the Kotaku comments, someone posted  his idea of inserting your old game disk (let’s say Uncharted), where it’ll read and verify, then stream from the cloud.  Basically a disk check system.  It’s an interesting proposition if true, but there are other concerns.  Not everyone has lightning fast internet, and we’re talking many-gigabyte-sized games here.  Furthermore, there are such things as monthly data caps, depending on where you live; I personally am lucky to have never experienced such, but there are people that have very little choice but to live with data caps.  Forcing these users to use up precious data on streaming games can be a potentially bad situation for many.  Perhaps the PS4 is partly funded by Comcast?

The pricing of the PS4 wasn’t revealed, so I can’t comment on that particular prediction, yet.  Still I’m 0 for 3 on the Playstation side of things.  I am tempted to add some new predictions and change some of my old ones.  Oh heck, here’s a changed prediction:

  • Microsoft’s new Xbox will be released in the Fall of this year.  I previously said (along with the PS4) it would be released Fall of 2014, but now that Sony announced their intentions, I think Microsoft will follow suit.  I’ll stick with them announcing at E3 though, and give myself a half point if I end up being correct, however unlikely.

I did find it funny that Soy dedicated a press conference to revealing the console, without showing the actual console.  Apparently, the appearance hasn’t even been finalized yet, which I think can be a cause for concern about making their Fall release date.

In the end, until I know more about pricing, I’ll refrain from deciding on whether to be an early adopter or not.  However, even if the price point is super-friendly, and the exclusive launch game line-up looks amazing, I’m inclined to believe that I won’t be an early adopter, simply because my Playstation 3 is still serving me well, and I’m simply not interested in streaming a game like Grand Theft Auto 5 on my currently semi-slow home network when I can pop in a disk into my PS3 or XBox 360.  Unless GTA5 is coming out on PS3 and PS4, in which case…I’d predict it’ll be better on PS3. But I digress, and besides saving money is a smart play for me to make nowadays.

Game Producer Quest, Part 13

There was an article on Kotaku yesterday regarding the next-generation Xbox.  Since my original prediction post a couple of weeks both regarding Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen offerings, there have been quite a number of posts regarding both consoles.  As of right now, it would probably be wise to take everything one reads on these subjects with a grain of salt…actually, come to think of it, anything and everything on the internet should be taken with a grain of salt.

But I digress; I thought it might be fun to comment on Kotaku’s story about Durango, pretending for a moment that all the information contained therein is 100% accurate and factual.  The first item is that a mandatory, upgraded Kinect ships with every console.  It’s upgraded in that it can now track six individual “skeletons” in the same room, capable of automatic player identification.  Furthermore, it can track more joints and features upgraded camera resolutions.

Personally, as someone who just exercised with Kinect about an hour ago (in case you’re wondering, a good cardio workout can be had with Kinect if you push yourself, but don’t expect to build too much muscle with it the device), I’m all for an upgraded sensor, especially if it can get closer to the ever elusive 1:1 motion tracking.  The Kinect as it is now can come close, though from personally experience, how quickly you move is a key factor in this.  That is, the Kinect has problems tracking faster movements and keeping up as were, so I’m hoping the upgraded Kinect will be capable of faster, more accurate motion tracking.  I’m not expecting perfect 1:1 on the fastest movements, but the closer it can get to that goal, the better.

Getting back to Durango, apparently all consoles ship with a hefty HDD, and taking a page from Sony’s old-school PS3 playbook, games are now installed when first inserted into the console.  One neat thing is that it can apparently install in the background while you play the game simultaneously, a neat feature if it works well.  However, mandatory game installs may not make everyone happy.  In fact, making game installation mandatory is somewhat confusing, and I wonder if this is incorrect, and one will be given a choice.  I for one, actually prefer to install my games on the hard drive, but I can understand if others wish not to do this, so a choice here makes sense as to appease a wider consumer base.

Taking a page from smartphones and computers, Durango can apparently run more than one game (or app) at once, which would be really neat if true.  Imagine wanting to take a break from the game, one could potentially suspend the game without losing one’s place, go make a cup of tea, watch Parks & Recreation on Netflix, and the resume playing.  I personally love this, as it fits in perfectly into my multi-tasking lifestyle, and most of the time, play games in spurts as opposed to marathon sessions.

The new controller will apparently be a “natural evolution” of the current 360’s gamepad.  I have no idea what that means, except apparently it uses new wireless technology that will make backwards compatibility impossible.  I actually don’t mind this, nor do I think this to be a form of price gouging.  It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that every new console will have peripherals that work only with that device.  Nintendo tends to buck the trend there (Gamecube controllers work with older versions of the Wii, for example), but I’m fine with a new controller.  I only hope that it’s as comfortable as the current 360 controller, and that the battery life is improved.  Assuming it runs on two AA batteries, like the current wireless controllers, I hope that it’s more efficient in its battery usage so that they last longer.  That would be nice.

There is mention of the Xbox Companion App, which I must admit I know virtually nothing about.  Maybe I should look for it the next time I power up my 360 and see what it’s about…then again, it makes perfect sense why I’d know little.  It apparently has to do with interactivity with one’s smartphone / tablet.  I currently have neither; I’m waiting out on Razer’s offerings for their Edge tablet, as well as Microsoft’s rumored Xbox Surface tablet before making that particular purchase.  However, I’ll be getting a smartphone soon; probably early next month.  Since I intend for it to be a Windows 8 phone, maybe I’ll look for the Xbox Companion App to see what that’s all about.

I won’t go into specs with regards to processing power and what not, though I will mention that the 8GB of DDR3 memory seems…small to me.  I think 16GB would be the sweet spot with regards to future-proofing the console (i.e. it’s a 6-10 year lifecycle) vs. 8GB of memory.  That’s just my opinion though.

If any or all the rumors that have appeared about Durango or Orbis are true, much of the predictions I made a couple of weeks back would be wrong.  Oh well, I’ve been wrong before, so that’s nothing new.  C’est la vie.  In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day to all who celebrate that particular day.

Game Producer Quest, Part 11

Actually, I wanted to title this blog post: “No Ni no Kuni For You!”

This is a story that’s made the rounds of gaming news websites (Kotaku, IGN, etc.), and burned long and bright in the various gaming forums such as Neogaf and the Namco Bandai Games community.  Unfortunately, with so many voices chiming in, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction as people’s  tempers flare and misinformation and rumor get added to the mix.

My understanding of the entire situation is as follows, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was coming to North America localized, published and distributed by Namco Bandai.  However, a special collector’s edition dubbed the ‘Wizard’s Edition’ was made exclusive to Namco Bandai’s website (i.e. unavailable through Amazon, GameStop, etc., though standard editions of the game could be bought at mentioned places.)  Over the summer of 2012, they started what they called a ‘Ninostarter,’ where the more people that preordered the Wizard’s Edition (i.e. more money spent, reach goal x), the more collectables would be included.  At least that’s how I think it worked.  Anyways, this preorder period ended in late August, with no limits as to how many copies can be ordered.  The game would be released January 22, 2013.

No Ni no Kuni for you!  Yay, I got to say it!

No Ni no Kuni for you! Yay, I got to say it!

Namco Bandai announced sometime in early January that there would accept additional Wizard Edition preorders on January 17, 2013, though the additional stock would be extremely limited, limited to one copy per order.  I ordered during this time period.  So some the release day, and orders were being cancelled left and right.  There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to who was getting cancelled and who was getting orders fulfilled, as people who ordered over the summer as well as January 17th were getting the dreaded cancellation email.  Incidentally, Digital River is the company that handles orders for the Namco Bandai store, as well as several other big name companies, including Microsoft.  In an attempt to calm customer anger, a $20 coupon code that expires in March was given out to people with cancelled orders.

The shenanigans don’t end there; a lot of people were angry, regardless of what time period they preordered, and called Digital River customer support to find out why their order was cancelled.  Some people were able to reorder over the phone successfully.  Furthermore, for some strange reason, on January 23rd a secret link was made for people to use to reorder.  This link was leaked and made public by an unknown party, and many people used it before it was disabled.  As far as I can tell, people who used this link or called were given priority over others who ordered earlier, even over the summer, angering people even more.

Digital River did post an apology on the Namco Bandai forums, blaming a glitch in their system for the fiasco; I’ve quoted the following sections of it:

“For those of you who placed orders prior to January 17 and provided valid payment and shipping information, your order and a shipping confirmation should have been sent to you.”

This is not entirely true, as people who did provide valid payment and shipping information had their summer preorders cancelled, and are easily the angriest regarding this situation.

“If you placed your order on January 17 before the inventory was exhausted, you should have received an email notification stating that your order is being fulfilled.”

I guess I was not one of these people, but there are people that easily, within minutes of the preorder link being made available, that placed an order that had it cancelled.

“If you placed your order on January 17 after the inventory was exhausted, you should have received an email notification yesterday from Digital River stating that your order was cancelled and that you will not be receiving Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch – Wizard’s Edition.”

This is where I get annoyed; the post in its entirety was made on January 23, 2013.  If inventory was depleted, how were people who ordered on the 23rd via secret link or phone call able to place orders?  This single discrepancy frustrates me to no end.  By the end of the day, there were people that pre-ordered over the Summer that had their order cancelled, though I can’t give you a number or even guess a percentage.  Many people that preordered on the 17th (including myself) had their order cancelled.  As far as I can tell, most if not all of the people that ordered on the 24th had their order fulfilled.  This is most angering for me personally, as the company has made no effort to explain this discrepancy, which at this point leads me to believe severe incompetence and lack of effort and care on Digital River’s part is the culprit here.

Due to overwhelming hardcore gamer anger (nerd rage FTW! ;)), a conspiracy theory gained traction about an EBay seller going by the handle ‘PlayCanada,’ who pre-ordered over the summer 200+ copies and managed to sell them on EBay at extreme marked up prices.  PlayCanada had lied and said they worked closely with Namco Bandai to get those copies, a report Namco Bandai said was false in a statement of their own.  Speaking of Namco Bandai’s official statement which was made on January 25th, 2013, they issued an apology not in word but in deed, saying they will give a free hard bound copy of the Ni no Kuni strategy guide put out by Prima games to those affected by this fiasco.  Mind you, I already own this strategy guide (preordered at Amazon), but I do think this is something.  It’s unfortunate the Wizard Edition preorder was botched so badly, but this is something.  To be honest, it’s better than nothing, and while I would have liked a worded apology as opposed to “…respectfully ask(ing) for our fan’s patience during this time…” it’s still better than nothing.  However, as of this blog post, there has been zero contact by Digital River for this strategy guide, so until it actually happens, I remain a bit skeptical.  Furthermore, considering everything that has happened, I wouldn’t be surprised if Digital River charges me shipping and handling for this free guide.

I probably just jinxed myself there.  D’OH!

Returning to Digital River’s statement, I quote:

“To start, we want you to know that this event should neither reflect negatively on NAMCO BANDAI and the value they place on customer relationships, nor take away from the high quality of their game, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch – Wizard’s Edition. Digital River is taking responsibility for this situation and we are truly sorry for the experience you may have had with our company. We are working hard to make sure an event like this doesn’t happen again.”

I disagree that the assertion that this fiasco should not reflect on Namco Bandai and Digital River only, as there is honestly plenty of blame to go around.  Though I don’t know if Digital River’s attempt to fall on the sword was an attempt at positive spin PR, hoping not to anger their partner Namco Bandai, appease the customers for an apparent show of nobility, or any combination of the above.  But I digress; as I said, plenty of blame to go around in my opinon.  I don’t know for certain as I am not privy to the inner workings of Namco Bandai management, but someone somewhere decided to have a collector’s edition and make it exclusive to the Namco Bandai online store.  It makes no sense to me that Digital River would make this decision, but someone or someones at Namco Bandai are responsible.  Furthermore, in making this decision, someone at Namco Bandai should have realized that since things are being done differently from the norm, that different policies and procedures should have been established to make sure this exclusive preorder would go smoothly and successfully.  I personally believe no such thing was done.  In other words:

Namco Bandai Executive: “Let’s make this collector’s edition exclusive to the Namco Bandai store!  It’ll drive up traffic and we cut out the middleman!”

Yes Men & Women: “Yeah!  What a great idea!  You’re a genious!  Steve Jobs was a peon compared to you.”

Namco Bandai Executive: “Yes, yes, I know.”

Yes Man/Woman that Doesn’t Want to be a Yes Man/Woman: “Uh, sir?”

Namco Bandai Executive: “What?”

Yes Man/Woman that Doesn’t Want to be a Yes Man/Woman: “Well, shouldn’t we start making plans for this exclusive?   We’re going to have to manage this project differently, track stock differently, establish new policies and procedures, maybe hire additional staff…”

Namco Bandai Executive: “Project management?  What’s that?  We don’t need to do any of that.  That all sounds like it costs money.”

Yes Man/Woman that Doesn’t Want to be a Yes Man/Woman: “Well, we could use contingency in the budget to offset any costs…”

Namco Bandai Executive: “Contingency?  What’s that?  Look, we don’t need to do anything differently at all.  We’re Namco Bandai, b****!  And our partner Digital River is awesome!”

Yes Man/Woman that Doesn’t Want to be a Yes Man/Woman: “…”

Yes Men/Women: “Namco Bandai Rules!  Digital River Rules!”

Wait a second…does the guy who used to head BP now work at Namco Bandai and/or Digital River?  That would make so much sense!  Well, at least in my brain.

However, I agree about the high quality of the game, which is why when I had my order cancelled, a placed an order with Amazon for the standard edition.  In my opinion, it was better than nothing, and those that have decided to not purchase it at all in a boycott of Namco Bandai products I think are doing themselves a disservice as gamers as the game really is terrific.  If one does not wish to support Namco Bandai, that is their right.  However, I think one should be able to soothe their conscience in knowing that in purchasing this game, they are supporting the developers of this game, Level-5 and Studio Ghibli, two companies that probably are worthy of one’s support.  Namco Bandai only published the game, that is all.  I’m hoping once anger subsides, that people who thought to boycott will make this purchase.

As for Digital River alone, they say that they’re going to work had to ensure this fiasco doesn’t happen again.  I wouldn’t mind details regarding this statement.  Are they hiring more staff, an experienced project manager perhaps?  Are they upgrading their software and personnel to better accommodate customers and track available stock?

So the lesson I learned?  Try not to order exclusive items from the Namco Bandai store, at least as long as they’re associated with Digital River, unless the latter demonstrates a genuine commitment to increased competency and responsibility.

While I’m bummed about not getting a Wizard Edition, it’s hardly the end of the world.  I’ve had worse things happen to me.  With that said, I sincerely hope no one at Namco Bandai thinks to have a collector’s edition of Dark Souls 2 exclusive to the Namco Bandai store.  Personally, while I would hope both Namco Bandai and especially Digital River have learned from this fiasco, I don’t think it’s the smart bet to assume that they definitely have.  Making a Dark Souls 2 collector’s edition exclusive to their online store would be heartbreaking for me…

Game Producer Quest, Part 06

So I have a first generation Nintendo 3DS, which I’ve talked about before at length.  I fail to recall if I mentioned it, but I really dislike the analog nub.  It’s a bit stiff in my opinion, and simply doesn’t give the same amount of control as an analog stick does.  Case in point, in Star Fox 64 on the old school Nintendo 64, I could make the most narrow, precise flight maneuvers to escape enemy fire.  For the remake on the Nintendo 3DS, I smash into everything in sight.  It’s strange on my fond memories of that game are somewhat…tainted is not the right word, but I’ll go with that word.  The remake in and of itself is perfectly fine; but the controller is not.  Perhaps this is addressed in the XL hardware refresh, but then again…

Also, it has occurred to me that I could be the only one with this issue (i.e. maybe it’s just me).  C’est la vie.

Speaking of my Nintendo 3DS, ever since I moved back into my parents home, I have been unable to connect to their wireless network.  I have tried every security setting the 3DS has, and have gone so far as to place the 3DS right next to the router; no dice.  Since my XBox 360, laptop, PC, parent’s iPad, parent’s Roku device, Dad’s PC, and brand-spanking-new Kindle Paperwhite has no such issues connecting, I will blame the 3DS on this one.  It baffles me; I simply cannot think of any reason why it couldn’t connect, but as I’ve said, I’ve tried every security setting the 3DS offers, including no security, and nothing works.  I actually updated the device at a free wireless network at a doctor’s office.  Insane!