Thursday, January 26, 2017

Using emulation to streamline my video game library....

I have every intention of making 2017 better than 2016 was (couldn't get much worse, could it?) - but despite that, it seems that my blog has taken a rather morose turn lately. So I'll switch tracks and write about something that's been making me happy instead:

I upgraded my home PC a couple weeks ago to keep it right on the cutting edge (which is to say, not the bleeding edge like many dedicated PC gamers like to do). But along with that, I downloaded several emulators and ROMs that have allowed me to significantly update my video game library.

For those who don't know, emulators are pieces of software that allow you to play games from gaming consoles (NES, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, N64, etc) on a PC instead. ROMs are the files that represent the games themselves. It should be noted that this software sits in a legal gray area - emulation software itself is typically thought to be protected by law, but using it to play ROMs is somewhat fuzzy, in a "smoking marijuana in Colorado" sense. The general consensus is that playing ROMs, which are totally free online, is mostly okay so long as you also own a physical copy of the game you're emulating. That is the case for the vast majority of ROMs I've downloaded this month.

The beautiful thing about this upgrade to my game library is that between this and Xbox One's backwards compatibility program, I've been able to greatly streamline my gaming setup on several levels. First and foremost, I've now got most of my Game Boy, NES, SNES, N64, and Gamecube games on my PC. I had been buying many of them on my Wii U's Virtual Console as well, but the VC's library had quite a few gaps in it that I found frustrating, on top of Nintendo's notorious unreliability on the question of whether or not people will be able to port their Wii U VC games onto the Nintendo Switch, once it's released. Emulation solves both problems rather neatly, and with the Wii U's ability to play Wii games, I no longer need to have my Wii plugged into my TV.

The same is true for my Xbox 360. Because my Xbox One now plays almost all (read: all but six) of the X360 games I'm still interested in revisiting from time to time, I no longer need my X360 plugged into my TV, either. So as of now, the only systems I have connected to my TV are my Wii U, my Xbox One, and my PC (through a veeeeery long HDMI cable, and a clever plan to hide it). I will also be adding a Switch into the mix soon enough.

One final note about the Nintendo Switch itself: Steph and I plan on getting one (probably two!), but after reading all of the analysis of it and what Nintendo's plans seem to be, I am not convinced that Nintendo has learned many lessons from the Wii U (which was a commercial flop). Microsoft's Xbox division has been knocking it out of the park recently in terms of consumer-friendliness, and Nintendo has shown remarkably unwavering tone-deafness toward what its most ardent supporters want from its consoles. If it hadn't, I'd be playing my library of old Nintendo games on a Nintendo console, instead of my PC. I'm looking forward to the Switch, because of its bump in processing power over the Wii U, but I've yet to be convinced that it won't be Nintendo's final console.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I've said for a long time that I would much prefer to play my beloved Zelda/Mario/Metroid/etc games on an Xbox (or Playstation...I guess...) instead. And a move like that would make incredible financial sense for Nintendo as well, as Nintendo is really struggling as a company right now. It's Nintendo's software, rather than its hardware, that makes them a company worth keeping around forever. My desire to play classic Nintendo games ad infinitum is the primary reason I wanted to preserve them all in ROM form on my computer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Why should I have your back when you NEVER have mine?


It's an inarguable fact that our current president is a misogynist. My head knows that makes him a terrible, awful sexist scumbag of a human being who should be opposed at every turn.

But after having so many feminists tell me either in person or through countless articles that misandry "isn't real" or "doesn't matter" or "isn't a serious issue", my heart is having a hard time allocating any passion toward opposing Trump's sexism.

As unmitigatedly liberal as I am, I'm a little fed up with trying to care deeply about women's rights issues, because every time we, as men, have the audacity to point out when we're in pain too, we're immediately either blown off entirely or mocked relentlessly, usually by those who claim to care the most about gender equality.

This is not the same as race. Whereas being white has (almost) no disadvantages and being a person of color obviously does, being male does come with its own set of disadvantages that women are rarely faced with. They may be much more subtly woven into society than the disadvantages women face, but subtlety should not be mistaken for triviality or harmlessness.

Tumors tend to be much more subtle than gunshot wounds, as well. And it's frustrating to try to hand a tourniquet to a gunshot victim, and then have them scorn and mock you when you say you need chemotherapy.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Top 10 Video Games of 2016

Note: unlike most game reviewers, I list the Top 10 games I played in 2016, not the Top 10 games released in 2016 :)

1) Titanfall 2
2) Jackbox Party Pack 1/2/3
3) Forza Horizon 2/3
4) Pokemon Go
5) NBA 2K15
6) Unravel
7) Gears of War 4
8) Zelda: Ocarina/Majora 3D
9) Oxenfree
10) Inside

Game Reviews: Inside, Jackbox Party Pack, Forza Horizon 3


This spiritual successor to Limbo was nominated for Game of the Year by IGN, and was given a perfect 10/10 score in their review. I can certainly see where they're coming from, but I would not put the game quite that high. Like Limbo, Inside is a side-scrolling puzzle-solver with extraordinarily creepy and amusingly disturbing elements. You will encounter countless dozens of gruesome deaths as you guide a young boy on his 4-hour journey through one long dystopian nightmare world, but the world and all of its inhabitants and designs are filled with so many incredibly rich details that the artistry alone is enough to respect IGN's justification for giving it a perfect score. And like many great works of art, much of Inside's story is open to interpretation. It would be a disservice to anyone who hasn't played the game to spoil any of it here, but I will say that its ending may have been the single biggest "WTF" moment from any game I played in 2016.

Overall: 8/10

Jackbox Party Pack

Technically these are three separate games (Party Pack 1, 2, and 3), but I'm lumping everything together for this review because it really just feels like one big game. I bought the Jackbox games practically on a whim, because I was searching for a fun party game to play while we had tons of family over for Thanksgiving this year. Little did I know at the time that these games would be the only real contender opposing Titanfall 2 as my Game of the Year for 2016.

The Jackbox Party games are a series of relatively short party games that can be played by a small to large (and in some cases huge) group of people. This is possible because the game has players using their smartphone devices, rather than Xbox controllers, as input devices, via the game's online connectivity. It is INSANELY clever, and the kind of brilliant innovation one wishes Nintendo would come up with for their Mario Party series.

The games themselves are generally pretty great too, with a few standouts and only a couple clunkers. Some require drawing funny pictures, some require coming up with clever answers to funny questions. But the vast majority of them are simple enough that even our family members, who never EVER play video games, had no problems at all with hopping in on the fun. And THAT is the kind of laudable achievement that games of this type should all strive to. If you have an Xbox One, you NEED at least one of these packs (thank me later).

Overall: 10/10

Forza Horizon 3

The follow-up to 2015's Horizon 2 (which I also loved), this game is more of the same: gloriously unmitigated car porn wrapped around a gooey center of ludicrous, arcade-y fun. The ├╝ber-polished graphics and engine roars of the cars are as glee-inducing as they were in FH2, as is the attention to little details within the open world's various cities. Details such as these neat little shops:

....which most players will zoom by far too quickly to ever notice. I love it when game developers pay attention to little details like this. The game's sky is another example: to make the sky as photorealistic as possible, the developers actually spent months in Australia with ultra-high-end cameras pointed at the sky so that every movement of the clouds and every ray of sunlight could be captured in painstaking detail. You have to admire that level of dedication, and the game is all the more graphically jaw-droppingly beautiful because of it.

All of that said, there are a couple nitpicky elements to point out about FH3: for one, where FH2 was a simple series of four-race championships, FH3 splits that out into championships, exhibitions, and "rival" races. The map is now bloated with so many things to do that the game takes a very long time to complete (at least by my preferences, which lean toward 6-12 hour experiences).

Secondly, whereas FH2 takes place in a beautiful European countryside, FH3 takes place in Australia. Which is also beautiful (especially the cities near the game's beaches), but it also means the game places slightly less emphasis on well-maintained roads and slightly more on off-road races. Which is fine, if that's your thing – but as for me, just give me some exotic Italian sports cars and some modern American muscle and let me zoom around a big beautiful city near the coast!

Speaking of modern American muscle, FH3 (like FH2) lets me use the high-end Shelby variant of my real-world Mustang:

Which makes the Forza games all the more personal. That's my car driving around that Sydney-like city near the Australian Outback! (Often with Beethoven or Mozart blaring, thanks the game's hilariously contradictory classical music radio station). This Mustang was my most-used car by far. But my second-most-used car was actually a cameo that the Forza team threw in to make Xbox fans happy: you can drive a Warthog from the Halo games, as well (which was a great vehicle for the aforementioned off-road races). Not only can you drive the Warthog, the game also includes the theme song from Halo 5 (my all-time favorite game, thanks to its sublime multiplayer).

Which leads me to my single favorite moment from all of FH3. One unexpectedly cool addition to the game was the option to create your own custom "bucket list" challenges, and share them with other users. You can pick the objective (race, drifting, stunts, etc), the time of day, the weather, the music – EVERYTHING. The challenge I created myself wound up being more fun than just about any race or challenge that was already in the game. It requires players to drive a black 2013 Mustang (because duh) from the countryside to the heart of the game's biggest city, as the day transitions from dusk into nighttime, in a heavy downpour (which gives the added benefit of seeing a big beautiful rainbow as the race begins), with the theme music from Halo 5 blaring in the background. Is this not the greatest thing ever?

Overall: 10/10

New Year's 2017

2016 was one of the shittiest years ever. Period. Not only did millions of gullible, uneducated rednecks elect a racist tyrant with the mind of a child to be president, but every other week brought a brand new tidal wave of Republicans, feminists, and fetishists spewing such overwhelming amounts of insanity, hatefulness, stupidity, and unmitigated bullshit that hopefulness seemed like a running gag and eating a bullet often felt like a perfectly reasonable response.

All that said, the year certainly wasn't totally devoid of bright spots:

• Bought a super-nice house with the love of my life (I never posted a blog about this, but I have a plan!)
• Took another epic vacation to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando.
• Saw Bruce Springsteen and Mumford & Sons in concert
• Adopted two wonderful(-ish) dogs, Cortana and Zero.
• Celebrated our third anniversary with Steph, and got awesome matching tattoos.
• Took a second awesome vacation, this time to South Padre Island with Steph.
• Wore epic Steampunk Ghostbusters costumes to the Halloween festival in Muskogee.

Thankfully, 2017 got started off on a pretty good note (for the most part). I had a fun New Year's weekend with Steph – on Saturday we played board games with a friend who was having a crummy night, and on Sunday we finally got to try out the Ghostbusters board game she got me for Christmas:

It's a tad complicated, but really pretty fun :)

In summary: 2016 fucking sucked.  And 2017. will. not.