Genre Definition

I recently came across a massive flowchart for anime recommendations. I’d copy it in this post, but it’s enormous. It sparked a conversation with Kodra about what genres things actually fit into, and got me thinking about what having a genre even means at this point.


Kodra looked over the chart and found it odd that Kino’s Journey, a show we watched recently, was classified under “slice of life” and not “adventure”. It’s a show about a girl on a motorcycle traveling from country to country through a fictional (read: allegorical) world, learning about the lives of the locals and occasionally getting involved with local events (but mostly trying to remain a neutral observer).

Kodra’s take (though he can correct me if I’m misrepresenting it) was that the whole road trip, fraught with danger and sometimes open conflict, was an adventure, and that the show was therefore an adventure for showcasing adventurous things. I disagreed– my take was that it’s a show about seeing the everyday lives of various people through the lens of someone whose day-to-day is travel, rather than staying in one place. There’s no beginning or end to the story, no overriding goal to accomplish, no Big Bad to defeat, just a continuing story of a somewhat unusual everyday life.

That having been said, I also have to ask myself the question– would someone coming off of a string of more “standard” slice-of-life shows enjoy Kino’s Journey? Is that even a genre that makes sense? A lot of police procedurals and medical dramas fall quite neatly into the “slice of life” category, but is someone going to like Grey’s Anatomy or CSI just because they liked The Wire or The Big Bang Theory? On the other side, something like How I Met Your Mother is framed like an adventure, but is a lot closer to other slice-of-life shows than something like, say, LOST.


The same thing applies to games as well. Dishonored is a stealth game, unless you don’t want to play it that way. Wolfenstein: The New Order is an action shooter, but you can play it like a stealth game if you want. Borderlands is a shooter but has a lot of MMO stylings and is, realistically, best when played with friends rather than solo. I don’t know where you even start to classify something like Gone Home or Cibele, outside of the wide arc of “interactive fiction”.

On Steam, games are less and less classified by genre and more classified with tags, which vary pretty widely. Dishonored has the following tags on steam: “Stealth”, “Steampunk”, “Action”, “First-Person”, “Assassin”, “Atmospheric”, “Singleplayer”, “Adventure”, “Story-Rich”, “Multiple Endings”, “Dark”, “Dystopian”, “Magic”, “FPS”, “RPG”, “Replay Value”, “Fantasy”, “Open-World”, “Shooter”, and “Sci-fi”, which are arranged by most popular tags by the community. Some of these tags are pretty redundant, but they paint a reasonable picture of what to expect, without trying to shove the game into a single genre.

We can look at Gone Home, one of those games that defies simple genre categorization. Steam has it tagged thusly: “Walking Simulator”, “Short”, “Indie”, “Exploration”, “Atmospheric”, “First-Person”, “Story-Rich”, “Female Protagonist”, “Adventure”, “Singleplayer”, “Great Soundtrack”, “Interactive Fiction”, “1990s”, “Mystery”, “Romance”, “Point & Click”, “Narration”, “Realistic”, “Relaxing”, “Simulation”. I’m not sure I would call Gone Home a simulation of much of anything, and the tag “walking simulator” seems a bit tongue-in-cheek to me, but the overall theme of the tags paints a good picture of the game.


I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but it was definitely during my lifetime (I’m going to say late-90s/early-00s) that entertainment media started mixing genres more significantly than before. You can see it in the weird evolutions of niche, speciality TV stations– when MTV stopped just playing music and The Fantasy Channel blended with Sci-Fi (anyone remember The Fantasy Channel?), all the way up to now, where shows like Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and Agents of SHIELD started appearing on be primetime channels, instead of being relegated to tiny budgets on niche networks.

It’s been a really neat thing to follow, but our classification of media hasn’t really kept up. We don’t have a lot of unifying language to talk about the media we like, and I suspect that’s why you get a lot of outrage about particular shows. Someone expects to watch Jessica Jones and get a similar experience to Daredevil (because they’re both comic book properties through the same network), and is surprised (sometimes unpleasantly) to find that they’re very different shows, and they feel like they’ve been misled.


People got up in arms about Destiny because they felt like it should have has deeper MMO mechanics, or a larger focus on story, or have more intricately balanced multiplayer like Halo. There wasn’t the right language to classify the game properly, so it’s a lot easier to be disappointed. We as viewers and players have developed more specific, more rarefied tastes while the language used to describe our media has become less and less accurate, making it hard to figure out if we’ll enjoy something new.

It’s an interesting problem, and I’m not sure where the onus of solving it lies. Does it lie with critics and journalism? Can their major contribution to the state of the industry be developing and delivering a unified language for describing media? Does it lie with marketing? Should marketing be defining their games, with the most successful games dictating what language means for everyone else? Does it lie with players, and the new surge of community tagging and sorting?

Kodra and I have run into issues trying to sort through Crunchyroll and other platforms to find media we like– there’s so much and it’s so poorly described and categorized (if at all) that it’s hard to know what’s worthwhile, especially if it takes a few installments for something to really get going. Mostly we sort by looking for recommendations, though finding recommendations we trust is hard. At this point, of all the people we know, we’re probably some of the most versed and up-to-date on anime, making it easy for us to recommend things but much more difficult to find stuff ourselves.

Tournaments for Charity

Over the weekend I ran an Infinity tournament, the “AD Food Drop” event held locally. A lot of minis games do various charity tournaments and other events right around Thanksgiving, and this year Infinity is no exception. It’s a neat thing, I think, and there are a variety of formats that the events take.


One of the more popular event types is the canned food drive tournament, which is what we did this past weekend. The concept is fairly straightforward– it’s structured like a normal tournament except that you can donate cans for various bonuses or cheats. You can donate cans to bring units in your army lists that you otherwise couldn’t, or gain an advantage of some kind, or reroll your dice (and, in some cases, make your opponent reroll theirs).

It’s a format I like because it’s really obvious from the get-go that the person who donates the most cans is probably going to win, or at least have a good shot at it, but the whole point is that it’s a food drive, and donating more food gets you better results. It takes some of the seriousness out of the tournament in general, which I think is sometimes a good thing. There’s no implication of fairness, and everyone knows that up front.


It’s not just minis games, either– a lot of competitive tabletop games do this kind of event, and they tend to be pretty well-recieved. In a lot of cases, they upset the usual balance of tournaments (which I think is a good thing) and get people to play a bit more casually than they otherwise might (also a good thing). It’s hard to get mad at anyone for “cheating”, because they’re paying for the cheats in donations, and you can get a pretty good amount of charity from even a small tournament.

One of the other charity events at least among minis players is a fully painted army raffle. A wide variety of people (from professionals to hobbyists) will contribute painted miniatures to a single, unified army, which is then raffled off and the proceeds donated to charity. I’ve never personally contributed a miniature, but I’ve had a number of friends who have and the end result is always impressive. The armies are generally painted with an orange theme, as a world hunger awareness nod.

size_550x415_Converted servitors by Chris Borer

I always like these community events, and it was a great time being able to run the weekend’s tournament, both because I like the cause and also because it allowed the usual tournament organizer (who, truth be told, also set up and arranged this event) to actually play in an event rather than simply overseeing it.

The experienced reinforced to me how much I like Infinity and its community. There was another tournament running simultaneously with ours, and I had the opportunity to keep an eye on it while things were ticking over smoothly with Infinity. It didn’t escape my notice that the players at the other tournament were rather more aggressive and there were frequent calls for a judge to mediate some disagreement or another. Over the entire day of games during the Infinity tournament, I was called over to answer a question or mediate a disagreement maybe… three or four times, total?

It was a good time, and I liked having the opportunity to play a bit more active of a role in the community outside of simply being a player. I’m not sure it’s something I’d want to do ALL the time, but once in a while is nice.

Well-Executed Nonsense

I lost an entire day this weekend to Rocket League. If you’re not familiar, it’s soccer-like, only you’re driving around in ridiculous cars with rocket boosters. It’s a completely nonsense premise that sounds like the kind of idea a bunch of kids would come up with– “oh man, what if we played soccer but IN CARS but also WITH EXPLOSIONS and the cars COULD FLY?! WOULDN’T THAT BE AWESOME?”


The game defies a no-caps explanation. It gleefully sets up a fantastically arcade-y soccer match between teams of unlikely vehicles, and within a few minutes, the premise melts away and what you have is a very compelling team game with really intuitive controls and a tight, polished physics engine. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t, but it *is* extremely fun; it’s the pure, simple fun of Mariokart in a more streamlined package.

It scales surprisingly well to the number of players you have, from 1v1 to 4v4. I played mainly with Kodra, Eliyon, and Ash, but as our group grew and shrank, it was easy to go from 3v3 to 4v4. We played against the AI, since none of us had played the game before, but the AI gave us a bunch of fun matches. Games last about five to seven minutes, so it’s easy to hop in for a game or two.


It’s also a surprisingly DEEP game. Controls are fairly simple, but the combination of the physics engine and the… liberties the game takes with the laws of physics let you set up some really awesome shots and saves if you’ve got the presence of mind and controller finesse to pull them off. There aren’t different types of handling for different cars, either– every car simply handles more or less identically, turning tightly, accelerating quickly, and having a frankly silly top speed. Without the constraints of a race, there’s no reason for differing levels of imperfection in a car, so Rocket League does away with all of that entirely. All of the car customization is entirely cosmetic, and pretty hilarious. Eliyon won a mariachi hat in our first game and wore it for pretty much the rest of the day. This is a gigantic hat that just goes on the roof of your car. Why? It doesn’t matter!


The best review of Rocket League I’ve heard is “I don’t like driving games or sports games at all, but I like Rocket League.” It pretty much says everything, and the fact that it’s a game where you drive cars around that Ash has fun playing also says a lot (haha I’m just kidding Ash). Seriously, though, it’s a really fun game and worth your time. It is to soccer what mariokart is to racing, which is a title I used to give to Super Mario Strikers, but frankly Rocket League does the same kind of thing better.

Rocket League also became an e-sport in record time and has a ton of youtube and twitch videos. Watching really, really good players is pretty exciting, because they pull off insane stunts. Definitely worth a look. If you like fun and like mariokart, give Rocket League a look.

PvP and Accessibility

I’ve been dabbling in PvP games recently– Battlefront a few weekends back, FFXIV’s Lords of Verminion, a bit of Starcraft. I even jumped back into Tribes to check it out, since I remember loving that game.


Of these, one has decent matchmaking, and one is too young to have enough data for good matchmaking. It’s an interesting problem with PvP design in general– for the vast majority of people, it’s only really fun if the sides are even, and otherwise it’s miserable. Furthermore, the speed at which players quit if they’re losing is a lot faster than if they’re bored of winning, so you quickly get into impenetrable situations where any sense of stratified play is eliminated. There’s no space for new players to learn how to play the game, and advanced players benefit from stomping new players.

At the same time, a lot of PvP games (especially MMOs) try to blur the line between levels of player skill, making each match a crapshoot as to whether it will be a close, fun match or a total blowout. It tends to make PvP feel more random and less “balanced”, which doesn’t satisfy PvP players, and it frustrates players who dabble in the gametype because it feels punitive and random compared to the rest of the game.


As a recent example for me, I’ve noticed that the Lords of Verminion metagame has, broadly, three tiers of players. There are the low tier players, who are trying new strategies and testing out minions against players (because the AI, even at its hardest, isn’t that challenging outside of some of the pre-scripted challenges), who tend to lose most of their games against other players (owing at least partly to a lack of rare minions). There are the mid-tier players, who are what I was running into a few days ago, who supplant skill with rare and overly powerful minions. Then there are the high-tier players, who are using no more than three or four different minions (a couple of which are rare), all generally with the same special ability, but are adept at using it and reacting to the other player’s moves. They tend to beat the mid-tier players who just use rare minions, because they’re better at the game and know which rare minions are the best and which more common minions can beat them. Unfortunately, I’m paired with all of the different tiers of players essentially at random, and the lower-tier players tend to stop playing after two or three matches. They tend to be the best and most even games for me, because I also lack rare minions, though I can occasionally beat a mid-tier player, though high tier players are both better than I am and have better minions. As a result, after a scant handful of games the only players remaining on the field for me are the ones I’m at a stark minion disadvantage against.


In a similar vein, Starcraft divides its players up by “leagues”, from bronze all the way up to platinum, diamond, and master. Every game you play adjusts your overall ranking, so that you’re more or less always being paired with players of your skill level. Starcraft’s downside is that even the very lowest tiers of play require knowledge of the game that’s hard to get without exposing yourself to other players. Other players, especially in PvP games, tend to be abrasive and combative– League of Legends is a prime example of a game that’s been fighting this for years with mixed results. Even in the usually surprisingly positive FFXIV community, I had a person (who was the top-ranked player in my server’s tournament last I checked) tell me to “just quit, you’re not good” in our match. It’s a bad environment to learn in, and worse if you have both opponents AND teammates to interfere (again: see League).

Solutions to this are interesting. In the MMO space, the number of players who actually actively participate in PvP is vanishingly small in most games– depending on the game it sits anywhere from as low as 2% to as high as 35%, but it’s always a minority of players. It’s a relatively inexpensive source of content, which is why you see it as much as you do, but supporting teaching systems (which would be significantly more expensive) are vanishingly rare.


Here’s the thing that frustrates me. PvP is fun. Probably a majority of my readership just read that and winced, or outright said to the screen “no, it’s not!”, but I assure you it is. Mariokart is a fun game. Smash Bros is a fun game. Lots of board and card games are fun, and they’re PvP. Bar Trivia is PvP. It’s possible to have fun in PvP in a video game, and I’d be honestly surprised to run into someone who’s played games for a long time who hasn’t had fun with PvP somewhere in there. It’s just that when you’re playing Mariokart with friends on the couch, you’re (probably) not dicks to each other, and you can make adjustments for slight skill differences to make it fun for everyone. No one wins if someone just slams everyone else and smack talks about it, and if someone does that, they’re probably not getting invited to the next game night.

Despite this, PvP in online games continues to be inaccessible for all but the most devoted. It’s something I think about a lot, because I think there’s a niche for a game that teaches PvP skills in a friendly, accessible way without being frustrating or leaving a huge skill gap between players who have just played the campaign and some “vs AI” matches and players who have played against other players. There’s got to be a way to pull it off.


In the meantime, though, I’d also like to see games lean on more serious PvE on a wider variety of levels for its challenge. Diablo 3 does this rather well, and while that game isn’t my cup of tea I think it’s a good example of a game with basically no PvP that’s still compelling over long periods. I’ve talked before about wanting an MMO with a legitimately scary world, too.

Trying New Things

I have a constant urge to experience new things. It’s what I imagine wanderlust is like for other people, except for me it’s not necessarily places, it can be all kinds of things. For most of this year, it’s been food. One of the closest food stores to me is a Japanese grocery, and over the course of the year I’ve been shifting my diet as a result of what I can find there. The change has been interesting for me.


Whereas I used to eat a lot of bread and meat, I’m now eating more rice and fish– mainly because that’s what’s inexpensive and readily available. I already ate with very few condiments, so it’s been pretty easy to transition and be extremely selective about what I season my food with. It’s simplified my meals considerably, and as a side effect I’m eating a lot more healthfully than I have before. In order to get the exciting flavors I like in my food, I’ve had to start trying different things– rice seasonings, various types of chilis, and new types of sauces. One of the best I’ve found is dried garlic in chili oil, which I use on a variety of things but mostly eggs– it makes for amazing scrambled eggs.

Today I picked up a package of umeboshi– pickled plums. I’d had a bite of one some time ago, and it was intensely sour cut with honey sweetness; one of the only foods I’ve had where honey doesn’t make for a cloyingly sweet flavor. It was a balance between extremes, and I wanted to try to find my own. I’d been told that the kind I was looking for were “sweet umeboshi”, but I have no idea how to differentiate those. After looking over the shelf in the grocery store, I confidently selected a package at random to bring home. I got an approving nod from a fellow shopper, which made me a bit concerned.

These were, as it turns out, not the sweet kind. It’s pretty much an intense hit of saltiness and sourness, with a sweet, fruity aftertaste. The flavor was, at first, almost overwhelming, and pretty unlike almost anything else I’ve tried before. It took me a solid ten minutes to work up the nerve to eat more than a bite or two, and finally just finish the whole thing. I did manage to finish it, and a little while later I suddenly understood why they’re so popular.


After the intense shock of salty and sour, what’s left is the faint taste of plum– slightly sweet, slightly tangy, very mild. It’s a very pleasant aftertaste, like plum wine without as much sweetness or alcohol. It’s a sensation that manages to be both similar to and unlike eating an actual plum, and I’m ultimately really glad I experienced it. I’ll be prepared for it next time I eat one of these, knowing that the real experience is in the complex aftertaste, not the initial salty/sour shock.

I’m so used to food that centers its experience on the consumption step– where the highlight of the experience is when the bite is actually on your tongue. The only place where that really diverges for me are mixed drinks, where the appealing part isn’t necessarily the flavor of the drink, but the aftertaste, or the aroma, or the texture. Umeboshi fits into this interesting space where I appreciate the flavor AFTER I’ve eaten it, but not during. It’s possible that will change, but it’s a flavor I couldn’t have imagined myself enjoying even just a year ago.

It reminds me of why I like to experience new things, try new sensations, and understand new concepts. Understanding that this salty, sour pickled plum is widely enjoyed made me want to try it, and approaching it with an open mind gave me the chance to have an entire new world of food open up to me– there are a bunch of things that I’m interested in trying now. I think it’s easy to have an experience that doesn’t fit in neatly with what I’m used to, and simply dismiss it as “weird” without a second thought. It’s an automatic response that I consciously try to fight.


Part of this is that I believe that people are fundamentally pretty much the same everywhere. Things are often just arranged differently. There isn’t some magic cultural trait that prevents me from understanding and enjoying the flavors of other places, and there’s a lot out there that can surprise me, still.

I think it ties in nicely to games– when I was younger and hadn’t experienced a ton of games, relatively mainstream, relatively popular games could still surprise me and make a big impact. As I’ve gotten older and have expanded my gaming palate, it takes ever more high-quality, original games to get my attention. However, if I start delving into genres I’ve never touched, or thought I didn’t like, I can often find new experiences that are familiar enough to be compelling but different enough to be new and exciting. The best part is, for a lot of those genres have their own outstanding, top-notch games to try.

The first taste might not seem interesting or palatable, but there’s a reason so many people like a given thing. I find it fun to try to find out why, find that spark that gets people excited.

Equating Rarity With Power

So, I’m done with Lords of Verminion, after less than a week. It’s an interesting game with some crippling pitfalls. I’ll probably still play around with the AI and replay some of the more interesting puzzle challenge battles, but it suffers from a severe problem when playing against other players.


The rarest minions are, by far, the best, with very few exceptions. If it’s a rare drop from a dungeon or from treasure maps, it’s an absolute killer. Essentially, if it sold for several million gil prior to the patch, it’s now a top-tier minion (again, with very few exceptions). Possibly you’re reading this and saying “well, yeah, of course the rarest ones are the best, that’s how it works in other games, like Magic”.

Unfortunately, one of the things that Lords of Verminion does that’s interesting is also the problem with this. There’s nothing stopping you from running an entire field full of a single, rare minion. I’ll use Nutkin as an example, because it’s basically caused the end of every match I’ve lost. It’s a Critter-type minion, with outrageous stats, for 30 points (the highest possible point cost, out of 240). In theory, it’s balanced by the fact that you have relatively few of them. However, a single Nutkin can win against 4-6 other minions, regardless of type. I’ve watched two Nutkin (60 points) rip apart 6 Bombs (also 60 points) despite the Bombs having a type advantage and using Bomb abilities, without the Nutkin using anything. One Nutkin was low, the other was full.


Seeing this in a couple of games, I figured perhaps throwing other big minions against the Nutkin would work. Clockwork Twintania is another monster-type, which is presumably strong against Nutkin, and is 25 points. Three Nutkin beat four Twintania, handily, despite Twintania’s defense boost. Nutkin are also fast, either 3 or 4 stars, so they can move all over the map relatively easily.

In a game ostensibly about exploiting type weaknesses, this is a problem. It means that the rare minions determine the match, and because there’s no limiter on how many of these powerful rare minions are on the field, if they can win out even against type there’s no real way to fight them. In theory, swarms should be able to win out against smaller groups of powerful minions, but a powerful enough minion with just enough in a group will kill swarms faster than they can do damage.

The idea, I suppose, is to drive players to seek out the rare minions in order to compete, but mostly it seems to have a cooling effect on the playing field. Three times this weekend I showed up to play and saw a group of about 10-15 people all at the consoles. Within a handful of matches, it had boiled down to myself and one other person, throwing out rare minions and generally using the same strategy every time. Varying my own strategy accomplished basically nothing. Watching groups of players evaporate against what appears to be an unbeatable strategy (or one that’s being enabled just through access to already rare and hotly desired minions) is disheartening– it’s telling to me that on our entire server, fewer than twenty people are signed up for the tournament, and at least four of them are using Nutkin spam.


Other games have pursued a similar tack– several prepainted miniatures games put random figures in the box, and many card games have explicitly “rare” cards, which are often (albiet not always) straight up better than the more common ones. The “right” answer, in all of these cases, is to not bother with the usual delivery system and simply buy the models/cards you want straight up, then use those to win against people who didn’t do that.

I don’t much care for relying on random luck to acquire something crucial that you need to keep playing the game. It makes me feel very strongly that the game doesn’t respect either my time or my money, whichever is being used to generate more rolls on the random table. I understand that a lot of people keep rolling because that rare thing is an exciting surprise– for me it’s simply the thing I already knew I needed, so every roll that doesn’t come up with the thing I need was a waste of time/money.

I’ve noticed that the design of important things in games has shifted to agree with me, as well. Token and currency systems are the norm, removing the random bad luck of drop rates from the equation. Sometimes there are still random luck rolls, but they’re often for secondary sources, and much easier. FFXIV has currency for its “main” upgrades, but also supplies random secondary loot drops. It’s a good system, because you’re not relying on a lucky drop.


A lot of this is that my appreciation for random loot was burned away from me in my time helping run LNR. Random loot meant everyone was always unhappy– people who didn’t complete their set from the previous dungeon were annoyed when we moved on, people who badly needed a particular upgrade were frustrated when it never dropped, entire class teams would grumble when yet another week went by without any loot for them, and everyone sighed when the same item dropped yet again, when no one needed it.

What bothers me especially about Lords of Verminion is that it could have been a good excuse to break out those common minions that no one really used. It’s a simple game, but in theory a deceptively deep one, it just falls apart when it can be easily reduced to “spam this one powerful minion”. Players will always try to find the easiest possible way to win, and LoV does very little to force the issue.


As a result, pubstomping with a single, out-of-band minion is the norm, and it’s easy to watch it drive players away from the game. It’s a pity, because it’s a really neat game with a lot of cool ideas, it just falls apart when it comes to rare minions. The matches I play that aren’t ruined by rare drop minions are FANTASTIC, and almost fun enough for me to deal with the matches where I lose simply because I didn’t feel like shelling out 7mil for a minipet. However, those players leave after losing repeatedly to rare minions, and there’s no incentive for the rare-minion player to give up their advantage.

Instead, the winning move is not to play, and the forlorn tournament board registers 17 players on the entire server who have opted in. We stand around, hoping that this next match won’t be dictated by rares. It’s sapped the fun out of the game more or less instantly.

Short Fiction Friday: Time

(Another bit of short fiction, for my on-again off-again Friday installment. No setting background for this one, I’m trying to practice writing different kinds of characters.)


Saying goodbye was easy. She hadn’t even needed to rehearse it; she’d had plenty of time to prepare. The parting wasn’t a shock, wasn’t unexpected. On a chilly morning in late winter, she said goodbye, and was alone again.

It wasn’t that hard to fall back into a groove. Surprisingly easy, really. She didn’t really want to talk about it, and the people around her didn’t want to pry, or didn’t want to open the wound, or simply didn’t want to deal with her being uncomfortable. It even warmed up in the spring, so the cold wasn’t there to remind her that half of the bed was empty.

Then it was summer. Her morning routine was interrupted by an empty lip gloss container. Her immediate thought was “I need to replace that”, as it had been innumerable times before, but this time it was followed by a smaller, sharper, thought: “why?”

In a moment, perspective shifted, and the morning ritual suddenly felt hollow, meaningless. Weeks, months of suppressed loneliness surged forth like a punch to the gut, and the tears came, unbidden and unwanted. The morning ritual preceded the day; she was on a schedule, there was no time for a breakdown right here, right now. She had places to be, things to do. The tears had ruined the routine, smearing makeup and making it obvious that she’d been crying. Angry, now, with herself for breaking down, with the poor timing, her inconveniently sudden sense of grief, she washed off her makeup with a vengeance and went about her day, trying not to think of herself as suddenly plain.

The world didn’t end, she went about her day without issue. Even when someone commented that she “looked tired”, she simply agreed with them– the weight of the morning hadn’t evaporated. She considered eschewing cosmetics entirely, making that life change that a breakup traditionally spurred. She lasted three days. How do you explain that now, months later, you’re feeling the grief that everyone thought had passed? Plus, she liked the morning ritual, it was a part of her. She did it for herself, not someone else. She wouldn’t compromise who she was.

Then it was autumn. Her shows were back on, and viewing parties were back on the schedule. It was an escape, a way not to be alone. She felt more lonely, recently, and going out with friends should help. She smiled at her married friends, smiled at her friends in new or lasting relationships, enthused the way she always had about romance. It was comfortable, being with friends, and importantly she wasn’t alone. Except… she started to see those little gestures between couples, the little wordless communications, those minute exchanges she had barely noticed before. Each one was a little splinter, a barb, a reminder of what she was missing. By herself, she felt alone, with friends, she was surrounded by reminders that she was, indeed, alone.

She smiled, hid the pain from the little barbs and splinters. How could she, the cheerful proponent of romance, begrudge her friends their healthy relationships? The problem was with her, not them. Keep it in, deal with it.

Then it was winter. She was dating again, or trying to. Not many options, a small number of first dates that never became second ones. Nothing against the people she dated, but no spark. She had her life, she had her schedule; it was hard to meet new people. “Put yourself out there,” her friends would say. “Be someone you aren’t,” she heard. It had been long enough that she didn’t know how to date, what had changed, where to go and what to do and who to look for.

Then it’s a new year. A friend made a remark that should have reminded her of that old good-bye, but she didn’t catch it. A flurry of apologies and confusion and she realized that maybe it should have been a trigger, but it hadn’t been. Maybe she’s over it? Maybe she’s moved on? If so, why does she still feel so alone?

Then it is spring again. The sun shines, the flowers bloom, and a chance meeting sets off fireworks in her mind. She’s excited, elated in a way she’d almost forgotten how to be. It could be a new thing, an escape from the loneliness. She tries to be calm, to keep perspective. She fears scaring this new person away, being too quick, too clingy, too forward. When a chance meeting, no matter how promising, proves to simply be just chance, with no further potential, when she doesn’t see this exciting person again, it’s shattering.

Then it is summer, once again. Despite time relentlessly passing, she remembers the fleeting excitement of the spring, and “puts herself out there,” the way her friends suggested, feeling disingenuous the whole time. She doesn’t care about this cooking class, she’s just here to try to meet people. She doesn’t care about bachata, it’s just a good feeling to be asked to dance. She doesn’t care about going out to this bar, but maybe, just maybe, there’ll be someone there.

She worries that she’s obsessive. She worries that she’ll stay alone. She’s worried that she’s already missed out on the best opportunities. She worries that she’s become pitiful, she worries that everyone can see how pitiful she is. She worries most when she’s alone, and it leads her to stay alone. She worries that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Then it’s fall again. The cycle is familiar, and mostly she can ignore how alone she feels. She has other things to do, other things to think about, other things to worry about. She tells herself she’s coping, she’s concerned with other things, she’s busy. Most of the time she believes herself.

Soon it will be winter. The bed will be cold, and she’ll struggle to remember what it was like when it wasn’t. Maybe she’ll turn the heat up, maybe she’ll fill the bed with pillows, maybe she’ll start reading, or staying up until she’s falling asleep on her feet, before collapsing into bed and passing out too fast to have time to think. Tomorrow is always another day.

Soon it will be tomorrow, the ever-promised other day. The loneliness is background noise; it’s a persistent hum that she’s gotten used to, like the sound of a fan in a room, the sound of someone gently snoring, or the sound of silence. Tomorrow might be different, and if it’s not, it won’t be that much different than today.

That’s good, right?

Pet Battling in FFXIV

I never got into WoW’s pet battle system. I understand people got really excited about it, but by the time it was a thing I was already mostly checked out of the game and didn’t care much for the pokemon-alike gameplay. I like pokemon, but I can just play pokemon. As a result, I didn’t expect to enjoy FFXIV’s pet battling system; I figured it was going to be another pokemon-alike, but it isn’t even close.


It’s more of a slow-paced real-time strategy game than anything, and it’s really interesting to me how it’s set up. The basic premise is that you’re summoning your battle pets in various numbers onto the field, and you’re attempting to take out three enemy crystals, before they take out yours. It’s a simple, MOBA-like setup.

Minipets fall into one of four categories– “critters”, which are strong against “poppets”, which are strong against “monsters”, which are in turn strong against critters. Finally, there are “constructs”, which are neither strong nor weak against anything. Every minipet also has a special ability, which is usable only if you have a group of four of them together, and only once they’ve charged up enough. It creates a bit of a balancing act between having well-balanced groups of battle minions and skewing heavily towards a certain type to benefit from special abilities.


Each minion costs a certain number of points, ranging from 10 to 30 (I don’t think I’ve seen any costing more than 30, but I could be wrong), and you have an overall maximum number of points you can have active at a given time. At the start of the match, you can pre-summon up to a certain point value’s worth of minions, which will appear instantly when the match starts. Thereafter, you can summon further minions by queuing them, like a build queue in Starcraft.

It’s a heavily tactical game, since you can summon whatever minions you like provided you have points for them (and have appropriately set up your bar). Some minions are strong against structures (like the crystals you have to destroy), others are strong against other minions, and others have more support-style skills.


Compounding the tactical part of the game are two more non-critical structures, which are close to the enemy’s deployment areas and, when destroyed, either make the crystals more vulnerable or remove the enemy’s ability to see where your minions are, unless they’re very close to them. It gives you some options to gain an edge, provided you can commit the forces to it.

A crystal can only be damaged if there are no enemy minions in its immediate vicinity, but only the crystals in the center overlap. This means that you often have to choose between offense and defense, and it’s possible to overwhelm an opponent by rolling around with a huge death ball of minions or by spreading your forces out.

It’s been an interesting game to play thus far, and I’ve got a few nice, powerful rare minions to work with. Unleashing a swarm of tonberries and bombs is every bit as satisfying as you might imagine.

A Trickle Of Content

Final Fantasy XIV launched its newest major patch this past week. I only got into it over the last couple of days, because Fallout, but I spent most of the evening futzing about, checking out the new stuff. A patch for FFXIV tends to be surprisingly big, in very subtle ways. For example, here’s what was added in the latest patch:


  • A new casual raid
  • Two new dungeons
  • About two hours of new Main Story Quest content
  • A (hugely detailed) pet battle minigame
  • A new set of rep grind daily quests
  • A new extreme-mode raid boss
  • A new guild questing airship zone
  • A bunch of new crafting items
  • Frankly, more crafting stuff than I can even begin to process
  • Several new guild projects
  • Several new micro-games in the Gold Saucer
  • New Triple Triad cards and opponents
  • Several new character customization options
  • New flying mounts
  • New minipets
  • New sightseeing locations (I honestly have no idea what this part of the game is)
  • New emotes
  • A medium amount of class balancing
  • A huge amount of refreshment of older content
  • A new screenshot camera system, complete with synchronized poses (!)

It’s a truly huge list. Individually, any of these things are a fairly small bit of content (except possibly the airship zone?), but as a whole it’s quite a lot of stuff to do. It’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed with the game– even taking a little short of two months off after catching up in Heavensward, I’m still interested in hopping back in and trying out the new stuff.


One thing that’s struck me, though, is that the way I’m approaching the game is significantly different from my last break. When I came back from my last break, there was a ludicrous amount of catching up to do, to the point where it was several major patches before I’d caught up. In a couple of days, I’ve made a pretty good dent in the “major” additions this patch, those being the story quests and one of the new raids. Another night and I’ll probably have the rest of the dungeons, too. Even after that, there will be a ton of stuff to do, and best of all, I won’t feel like I HAVE to do it to “keep up”.

I tend to check out of a game when I start feeling obligated to play it, which is where I was at before I took my break. I’d hungrily devoured the Heavensward content and had played almost all of the existing new content; what was left was to grind daily dungeons to slowly get a new set of fancy gear, for the hardest of content available. FFXIV has a notoriously punishing leading edge of content, and I’m just not that hardcore anymore. Rather than hopping in once a week, or less, I opted to take a break entirely and come back refreshed. I honestly expected that I would jump in, see the new content, and check out again, and perhaps I still will.


However, I came back to find the guild still humming along fine and happy without me, which was great to see, and I’ve caught up on the content I feel like I “have” to do, for the most part. As a result, I’m finding myself curious about the other fun things out there, and I feel like they’re going to be more fun than obligation. It’s a good feeling, and I’m more enthused about logging in than I expected I’d be. The game feels like home: familiar, and not shiny or new or necessarily flashy and exciting, but comfortable and welcoming. It’s okay that I was gone for a bit; my room’s still made up the way I left it and I can hop back in, no problem.

I’ve consciously tried to keep a moderate pace in FFXIV, playing when I want to and no more, and it’s kept me interested in the game rather than burning myself out. Our raid is still on hiatus– I’m not actually sure there’s much raid for us to even *do*, maybe the new extreme boss or scheduled guild airship zone nights, but I’m okay with that. There’s enough to do and play without the need to try to keep up with “progression content” right now.


Interweaving Narratives

When I write tabletop campaigns, I tend to write in two layers, which I’ve touched on briefly before. I’ll write the background layer, all of the stuff that’s happening behind the scenes that may affect what’s going on with the player characters, but likely won’t be seen directly until the very end of an arc. I’ll then write “moments” that intersect with that background narrative, and generally just enough connective tissue to link those moments together.


I tend to structure my tabletop RPG narratives in arcs, which are big sweeping stories with some major change or victory (or defeat) at the end. I break these down into Acts, which establish a kind of temporal lockstep with my background narrative, and then each Act is made up of scenes, which are the moment-to-moment bits that get strung together. I tend not to be picky about the order in which scenes show up, as long as they make sense within the Act.

Scenes are there to move the story forward, establish a bit of the setting, offer choices to the party, or resolve some conflict. They’re my little hints at the overall background story, and their outcomes affect how that background goes. The nice thing about breaking things down this way is that if the party makes some choice I don’t expect, I’m very rarely put in a position where I don’t know what to do next– I just pull a different scene out to move things forward. In a sense, I’m always fanning out a bunch of cards and letting my players pick the next one, at which point I set off whatever chain of events makes the most sense.

As a bit of an example, this weekend’s session of Star Wars was five scenes– two major ones, two minor ones, and one throwaway. Having acquired a starship, the group is working their way towards a particular location in the Deep Core. I figured they would either go straight for the Deep Core or take a side trip to better establish themselves. Each of these was set up with pros and cons– going straight for the Core would have gotten them closer to their goal quickly, and they’d at least be able to approach while under the Empire’s radar, but they’d be going in to a very dangerous area mostly blind. Going for more supplies / establishing relationships gets them more XP and resources, but increases the chances that they’ll do something that calls attention to themselves.

The first scene played out twice, as throwaways, and involved simply transmitting codes to Imperial checkpoints to get past. Pretty simple, but there’s still the possibility they could choose to do something crazy. Mostly it sets the scene for checkpoints as a regular occurrence. The second scene was a hyperspace interdiction– the party’s ship got pulled out of hyperspace by pirates. This could have played out in a variety of ways; it could have gotten them salvage, it could have put some damage on their ship, they might have gotten ahold of a rare and extremely valuable interdiction device, or (what they did) was talk their way out of it with some pretty fantastic social rolls and a bit of blind luck. Bel wanted his character to have something of a reputation for being bad luck, and a couple of deception checks and a name-drop later (and a successful Underworld Knowledge check on the part of the pirate captain), the party got away scot-free.

The third scene was a major one, as the group made a contact within the Rebel Alliance. This is where I start weaving in the background narrative, and the various things that are going on in the background. Their contact was intended to come off as sharp and perceptive, but friendly, and send the party on a side mission while she looked into some of their interests for them. She’ll be doing background checks on them and getting them resources in exchange for a search-and-rescue job on Nar Shaddaa, leading straight into the last major scene of the session: the rescue mission. This was interlaced with the last minor scene, another Imperial checkpoint but with a much more hostile agent. Nothing unmanageable, but not trivial either.

One of the things that I’d been tracking was the time spent by the party, both traveling and otherwise, mapped against the timeline of the background narrative. In this case, it’s the original series, so I’ve been keeping an eye on when specific major moments in the OT occurred, and what the party was likely to be doing at that time. In a delicious (for me) twist, the destruction of Alderaan coincided with the party’s rescue mission. I had a feeling it was going to occur, but I wasn’t sure how the group was going to approach the rescue. When they went in guns blazing, I knew things were going to be interesting. They did have the foresight to jack into the area’s cameras and get a view of where their enemies might be, though, which likely helped a lot.

About three rounds into combat, I asked everyone (in a party of force-sensitives) to make a Presence (Willpower) check, and got a few horrified sounds at the intense difficulty of the roll. A few people were getting a bad feeling about things when they saw the roll, and only two of the group managed to pass it. Then:

“You feel a great disturbance in the Force, as if a million voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were silenced.”

Psychic backlash is a real jerk, and I considered that in the original movies, Obi-Wan Kenobi was nearly incapacitated by the wave sent out by the destruction of Alderaan, and he was a serious badass. For my (much less powerful) party, anyone failing the check instantly passed out from the shock. Bad times in the middle of a firefight, but the party pulled through and made their rescue.

Now, it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with the aftermath of all of that, and if anyone will consider that they didn’t turn off those cameras. Hopefully no one of importance will happen upon a recording of an apparent gang fight where lightsabers got drawn and a bunch of people pass out at the exact moment a nasty ripple through the Force occurred. Surely there’s no one out there who might put two and two together…