All posts by Phlegethon

Passionate gamer and writer, as well as an incredible filer. The first two are true, the last is just a boast. Follow me on Twitter! (I need the love) https://twitter.com/Phlegethon92

New Goals, But Not For The Blog…

Howdy folks,

So my new year resolution to blog once a month failed quite terribly, didn’t it? Making any goals was a bad idea; I also haven’t written much in general, or exercised…or done anything other than work, play gears and sleep. In fact, I’m only posting this now to announce that, instead of maintaining this facade/effort to post regularly, I’m putting the blog on an indefinite hiatus for the unforeseeable future.

Yep, basically a big, undetermined length of time break. Admittedly, this can’t be much of a surprise given the rarity of my posts, but it was difficult to say this.  A small part of me constantly nags at my subconscious that I haven’t followed up on topics as I had planned, and that I should put in more effort to get a post uploaded here. After all, the things I’ve referenced or alluded to in previous posts continue to be things I want to talk about; I just simply haven’t been able to muster up the time nor the energy to do so. And as I can’t see that changing any time soon, with a heavy heart, I concede defeat.

Now, what does this mean going forward? In truth, nothing much will really change. The blog will continue to exist on the internet and I will post infrequently; not to reveal too much, but there are big events happening this year and I hope to discuss them at length. I’m only making this announcement so you don’t expect anything from me (assuming that is, you haven’t already moved on to other matters). By announcing this hiatus, I essentially don’t feel so guilty for not posting every month.

Also, and most importantly, my priorities have changed since 2016. Writing continues to be the long-term goal, obviously, but my big target is to get into the competitive gaming scene for Gears of War 4.  I’ve wanted to be part of the Gears pro scene for a long time, and right now I’m in a team that has the potential to make it happen. This is realistically my last chance, so everything else has to be put on the back burner while I put 100% towards this goal. Then, if I fail, I can at least say I did everything I could. And if I don’t fail, well then it was worth it, no?

Besides, I have all my adult life to write. I will never forget about my book – I think of it often – and I will finish it at some point. But for now, my thoughts are focused entirely all on Gears. Let’s get it!

———————–

Oh, before I go, I would like to say that I really do appreciate all of you who have read my posts, either now, in the past, or in the future. I’m glad you were here with me when I shared my first experiences in the US, plus my life in the UK, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed my musings during this epic journey. It’s been a fun 6 years, guys.

Until next time.

Alex

 

 

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A Long Rant About A Game I Used To Love

“This year is going to be different,” I told myself. “This year I’m going to set some challenging yet attainable New Years Resolutions and actually stick to them. No excuses, no delays…just doing what I want to achieve, and what I can achieve.”

Well, so much for that, eh? I blame my wisdom tooth. It was extracted on the 20th Feb and between the initial pain (bad), the dry socket (worse, much worse), and the subsequent removal of the emergency dressing (not so painful, but the horrible aftertaste lasted forever), it took over three weeks to recover. Doesn’t explain the time before the surgery, nor the period between recovery and now…but hey, I’ve been busy working, and playing Gears, and watching Supernatural, all super important tasks (Supernatural especially, for a special reason I’ll announce eventually – perhaps next month when I discuss my other TV obsession), so when did I even have the time?

Yep…totally justifiable delays. Besides, I can just change the goal posts, and say by January, I meant 20th March (when better to restart than the one month anniversary of losing my tooth?). Boom Nailed it.

Ahem.

So today’s post (or this month’s post, if I am to stick to my plan), is about gaming. And how, despite my efforts to become a professional Gears of War 4 player, I am, in many ways, falling out of love with my favorite pastime.

I should preface this by saying, my attitude towards gaming could and should (I hope) change in a matter of hours when Mass Effect Andromeda comes out. I’m expecting it to be awesome, and if it is, then everything in the world is great again and I’ll be super happy. Hours* away, guys! I’m seriously hyped right now. I can’t even stand it!

And yet, reality grounds me. As much as I love the Mass Effect series, the potential greatness of Andromeda will not change the fact that I’ve been largely unimpressed by the recent standard of mainstream games, and my general apathy to new games means I view even this upcoming launch with apprehension.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t good games on the market, nor am I saying the industry as a whole is regressing, just that the games I’ve bought in the past couple of years have disappointed me. Gears of War 4 aside (a game that is also far from perfect; were it not for the competitive scene I’d probably have stopped bothering with it), I haven’t loved a new game for a long time. In fact, on the Xbox One, I’d say there’s only been two games that have really drawn me in – Dragon Age Inquisition and Sunset Overdrive. Everything else I’ve played has either immediately or gradually pushed me away.

Annoyingly, I can’t really explain why I feel this way. Perhaps it is inevitable now that I’m working, my time is more valuable so I have to become more selective over games. By necessity, my standards are much higher than when I was a feckless teen with time to kill. It would make sense. The games I criticize the most (more on that shortly) are supremely popular games. Millions of people enjoy them, and I feel like an older version of me would be included in those millions. Therefore, it must be me.

But then again, is having higher standards my fault? My problem, sure, but when my biggest issues aren’t to do with superficial issues like the graphics, but core features of the game, such as the plot or character development, I think I’m right to be critical. True, in the past, I could have bypassed a ‘meh’ story to play a game (looking at you, Army of Two sequels), but when a game is attempting to motivate me with a powerful narrative, and that narrative is fundamentally flawed, I can’t be blamed for losing interest. Nor can I be blamed for voicing my disapproval at such a poorly written/devised game, a point which brings me to the worst offender on my personal hate list…Fallout 4.

Now, I will preface this by saying I never completed Fallout 4 and it’s been a long time since I played it. However, I did commit over 50 hours before reaching my breaking point, and I have in spoken at length to a fellow gamer who did complete Fallout 4 yet agreed with my criticisms, so I think I’m on solid ground here. If you disagree, please tell me why. If you haven’t played Fallout 4 but want to read on anyway, be warned that there are some SPOILERS ahead. And if you have no interest in Fallout 4, or gaming in general, I apologize, as this blog post probably isn’t for you. Unless you really enjoy a good story, then you should read on regardless so you can comprehend my anger.

Urgh, Fallout 4. So much promise. If you were around me prior to the game’s release, you would have known how giddily eager I was to play. Once it came out, that’s all I did. I was immediately encapsulated with the world, even more so than I was with Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. It was my biggest obsession for weeks. It wasn’t perfect, there were flaws, but I loved it…until those cracks in the game’s foundation became too big to ignore. Despite my best efforts to use my mind canon to fix them (mind canon is like Sherlock Holmes’ mind palace, just it only revolves around making my experience within a game make sense), the damage was done. Fallout 4 no longer appealed to me. I stopped playing completely. And though there are aspects of it I still think of fondly, I don’t think I’ll ever reload my save. Quite the damning statement, no?

So, what was wrong? Well, as I indicated earlier, the story was fundamentally broken, and only got progressively worse. How so? Well, let me break it down for you!

Issue 1: Story contradicts gameplay

First, a rough plot summary: after a nuclear war is initiated, you enter the safety of a vault with your partner and son, only to see your love shot and your son kidnapped while you drift into cryogenic sleep. You then wake up some undetermined time later with one goal: find your son. Pretty straightforward, right?

*sighs*

Now, I should explain that Fallout is a game series known for exploration. Fallout 4 is no different. You are encouraged to wander the radioactive wasteland, create settlements for other survivors, and kill every hostile force that dares to attack you in future Boston. This type of gameplay is what Bethesda arguably does best. However, this ideology downright conflicts with the premise of Fallout 4.

Admittedly, I’m not a parent so I could be wrong here, but I imagine if my baby was taken from me, I would spend every waking second searching for him. I wouldn’t be helping strangers unnecessarily, clearing out old buildings or helping the minutemen retake back their HQ. No, I would be entirely mission-orientated, an approach which is the complete opposite to how you’re supposed to play a Fallout game.

For someone who obsesses like I do, this contradiction is bloody horrible. I spent many fun hours going after side quests and building settlements, yet I could never displace the thought that I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be looking for my son. I tried to use my mind canon to explain why I was spending an insane amount of time building a junk wall around my primitive looking Sanctuary, but was largely unsuccessful in my efforts.

So, why didn’t I just do the story? Well, as I said, that would have been super boring and would mean ignoring Fallout 4’s greatest features. Besides, when I tried to get into finding my son, I ran into another problem…

Issue 2: The main story starts badly, doesn’t improve much

Another bit of background: after escaping the vault, you head back home and on the way, you save some settlers (or something like that, I forget). In this group is Mama Murphy, an old hag who happens to be a psychic. You give her some drugs, and she tells you to go to Diamond City, as that’s where your son was taken to first. Begin your quest!
Uh, no. No. Get out. I don’t care what gaming universe you are in, using a damn psychic to kick start your search is a load of crap. There is no bypassing her stupid prediction either – Mama Murphy literally initiates the bloody plot. It made me so angry, especially as Diamond City is the biggest settlement in the Commonwealth, and they could have done literally anything else (I know I’m overusing literally here, but that’s how utterly stupid this concept was) to get you to go there. You could have found a random dude and said “hey, I’m looking for my son, any ideas?” and after you shot him in the gut for trying to steal your stuff, he would have told you “never saw him, but he was probably taken to Diamond City because that’s pretty much the only place that isn’t filled with death, desperation and creepy dudes like me.”

Urgh.

Sadly, the story doesn’t get much better. You meet an investigator and track the man who took your son in a highly improbable way (I know dogs are great and all, but I don’t believe for a second even the best sniffer dog could follow a vague trail for miles, especially when a decent amount of time has passed since the dude went), and then…more things happen. I’m not entirely sure when I stopped caring, but it didn’t take long for the main story to mean nothing to me. I blame Mama Murphy for putting me on the wrong path. Well, the right path but you know what I mean.

To be fair, it isn’t all her fault. Another part of the problem is the dialogue tree. For Fallout 4, Bethesda took a Mass Effect approach to dialogue, giving their character a voice instead of block text at the bottom of the screen. I would generally approve of this, but it was too simplistic in Fallout 4. I could never ask the questions I wanted to ask, questions I feel I may have been given as an option if the protagonist was silent. And when I’m not given the option to ask questions, nor am I given the answers to these fairly obvious yet unspoken questions, I begin to ask myself questions instead, such as “why am I still bothering with this?”

The biggest example of wasted potential is the key plot to the story. Early on you are introduced to the idea of the Institute, a shady group that are suspected of replacing people with synthetic lookalikes. Their motives are unknown, but everybody is incredibly paranoid/scared of synthetics taking over. And even though I can’t ask an ousted synth some logical questions about how he exists (you go over some of it briefly, but nothing much in detail), I loved this angle. You can’t beat a good body snatching mystery!

Frustratingly, it doesn’t go anywhere. Even when you finally meet the Institute leader, the reasoning for their actions is never explored. You don’t get any answers as to why they are doing what they are doing. Or if you do, it happens after I hit my quitting threshold. After being told that I would learn the truth and promptly learning nothing despite completing at least 3 or 4 biggish quests for them, I gave up on the game. Sorry, but LOST, though I love it, took away all my goodwill towards never-ending mysteries. You need to give me some answers or I’ll find something better to do.

Now, this complaint is probably more of a story writing issue, or lack thereof, than it is about having a speaking protagonist (who should theoretically pull me deeper into the game…so much for that), but I do think the emotive yet uninformative dialogue tree hindered my enjoyment/understanding of the game. It wouldn’t, however, have helped with the biggest problem Fallout 4 has, which is…

Issue 3: There is no villain, and thus there is no point.

Fallout 4 tries to replicate the success of Fallout New Vegas by giving you factions to fight alongside. You have the Minutemen (a group that you lead, yet do every irrelevant task for because evidently nobody else can be bothered), the Railroad (who want to save the synths, and make you do irrelevant side quests despite being the only person who can achieve their goals), the Brotherhood of Steel (they want to take down the Institute by making you do everything), and the Institute.

Unlike Fallout New Vegas though, none of this really matters. There is no motive to care. The Institute, the apparent bad guys in the game, fail to really drive their evilness to you. As I indicated before, it isn’t explained. Are they even bad? I have absolutely no clue. I suspect Bethesda did this purposely so you could pick a side without being a bad person. Not everything is black or white in their world, and by leaving the story open and grey, the team you choose is effectively your interpretation of who you think is best. A neat concept but ambiguity is a detriment when the factions in Fallout 4 have no depth. Having checked the wiki page, it appears the end goal of the game is picking a side to destroy the others. Therefore, the worst response you can incite in your gamer is complete indifference to all your factions, because without the drive to pick a side, there is no reason for them to finish your bloody game. So they’ll stop playing.

And that’s what I did.

Annoyingly, explaining the Institute’s motives, even if showed them to be despicable human beings, wouldn’t have fixed the issue. Having an inherently evil group would have been great, obviously, and it would have helped me to pick a side. Not necessarily against them either – maybe I’m cool with being on the villains side. But the keystone of this issue is that, regardless of motivation, I need to make a choice. Bethesda had to force my hand and they never did. I got deep into the story without annoying a single one of the four factions, despite deliberately acting against two of them. The game was so determined to ensure I still had a choice, it actually showed me there was no consequences to my actions, and thus no point to playing.

How bad was it? Well, I intentionally screwed up two major Institute missions, categorically picking the other side, and yet they still wanted me to be their leader. What the hell?! In contrast, Fallout New Vegas provided a choice early on the game and I decided to shoot up one faction. From that point, I was their enemy. Even if I wanted to be their friend, I couldn’t, and that was awesome because it showed there was some meaning to my actions. Even if it screws my game up, I need consequences. Otherwise, what’s the point?

*deep breath*

BONUS NON-STORY ISSUE: The game never ends.

Fallout 4 boasted that even when the story is complete, you can continue to explore the wasteland. This isn’t a good idea. Games, even though we don’t want them to have one sometimes, need an ending. Yes, if you want to attempt to create the best settlement in the world, you should be able to do that. However, extending the runtime of the game by giving me the same side quest over and over again only causes me to hate you, Bethesda. It proves everything I do is meaningless (and I already know that, I don’t need the game to shove it in my face, thanks very much) because there is no consequence to my actions and nothing changes. Telling me to help the same settlement repeatedly, despite the fact I put fifty turrets around a junk wall that physically stops intruders, doesn’t tell me the game lives on, it tells me I’m stupid for still paying it.

Stories, even shoddy ones, need an ending, because there is no satisfaction or resolution without one. That’s why I’ll always pick Dragon Age over Skyrim, Mass Effect over Fallout. The fact that the Bioware games end with you wanting more is a damn sight more appealing than constantly clearing out the same cave or saving the same dopey settlers from ghouls for eternity. I’m not having it, Bethesda. I see through your bullshit. Preston Garvey, you can take your “settlement needs your help” crap elsewhere. I’m done.

*deep breath*

And that’s Fallout 4. A game that I once loved but ended up hating. Weak story, unchallenging gameplay (started fun, but got too easy) and infuriating bugs with my settlements just made it unenjoyable and unplayable. Maybe Fallout 5 will be better, eh?

*checks word count*

Boy, this got out of hand. I was going to also hate on Destiny, Grand Theft Auto 5, and Halo 5, but guess they’ll have to wait for another day. Sorry. My anger and disappointment at Fallout 4 ran deeper than I thought.

On the plus side, in less than two hours I can start playing Mass Effect Andromeda. Hopefully it’ll be everything I ever wanted. If not…well, shit.

Alex

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*I wanted to post this blog post before Andromeda’s release, but because I’m an idiot, I didn’t start it until 5pm, 6 hours before release. And because I refuse to delay publication until a later date, this is effectively a first draft copy I’m sharing with you all. So, if the writing is poor in places (highly likely), or I waffle on too much (already know that one from the word count), I apologize. I promise I’ll edit next month’s post before publishing (if I don’t forget about it or get sidetracked) which will also be a more positive piece, as I’ll be talking about my new favorite show of all time, and of course, our big Supernatural news!

Until then,

Alex

Edinburgh Part Two: The Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle

The much delayed part two to the Edinburgh story. My memory of the day is a little hazy so I’m afraid the story is rather vague now, but the pictures are worth viewing. Enjoy!

Another Photography On The Citadel

So after our surprisingly interesting and enjoyable tour around Holyrood Palace, we then walked along the Royal Mile, the road/streets connecting Holyrood and Edinburgh Castle. Is it exactly a mile long? No idea. The architecture of the buildings is great though, and on our journey we stopped for lunch at The World’s End pub, which thankfully had improved since my dad’s visit there forty years ago when he had a choice of two drink options and no food menu in a dark and gloomy pub. Despite initial signs looking bad because of kitchen issues, It was actually one of the best meal experiences Vanna and I have had together. The food was excellent (I had a delicious haggis pie with whiskey sauce; Vanna had steak and ale pie which was equally tasty), we tried a fantastic local cider (plus Crabbies Ginger Ale which I really wish was imported here) and…

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Edinburgh Trip Part 1: Holyrood Palace (Plus Graveyards!)

I tried Photobucket. I then tried to delete old pictures from here to clear space. Neither tactic worked. So, sick and tired of the slowness and horrible user interfaces of both websites (I really dislike the updated editor on wordpress, I find it unbearable), I then went to my old photography blogs, hoping to find some memory available on one of them. Turns out anotherphotographyonthecitadel had 50% free, so I went back to the good old fashioned slideshow method (remember those days? magical times). It only took 1 1/2 hours, but whatever. I’ll do this again for part 2. I’ll also use that post to share my thoughts on the whole experience (I realize captions don’t exactly cover much detail, but again, after over an hour of messing around trying to get something very simple to work, I wasn’t in the mood to provide a story). Anyway, I hope you enjoy the pictures! Just click on the link below to see them in full slideshow glory.

Alex

Another Photography On The Citadel

Howdy folks,

So I’ve split the Edinburgh trip pictures into two slideshows. The first, which you can see if you scroll down, covers our journey from Edinburgh train station to Holyrood Palace. After a wonderful train ride up the coast (sadly no pictures there; an old lady stole our window seat, and then when we moved elsewhere, we ended up awkwardly sitting next to a man who cast us unimpressed looks between intense typing on his laptop and phone calls bragging about his car, job, pay…stereotypical yuppie, one might say), we unintentionally wandered in the wrong direction to Edinburgh Castle (our first planned stop…whoops) and ended up instead going to one of the Royal Family’s summer destinations, Holyrood Palace, via two cemeteries, because why not visit some dead people?

Pictures with captions tell the first half of our story below. I’ll return with part two later, when I will…

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Durham/Seaham 2016

Howdy folks,

So the Edinburgh story and slideshow post isn’t quite ready yet, mainly because Vanna took over 400 pictures and I’m still trying to figure out which ones to use. In the meantime, I’m going to test out the Photobucket slideshow option with the pictures she took from Durham and Seaham this Christmas. There isn’t much I need to say for commentary, but I will apologize in advance for my creepy smile. That’s why I keep  my mouth closed for pictures, people.

Right…hopefully this works. If it goes well I’ll use Photobucket for the Edinburgh pictures too.

Enjoy!

Alex

http://s1304.photobucket.com/user/the_subconscious_death/slideshow/seaham

EDIT: It appears I can’t get the slideshow to embed in the blog post by the Photobucket link and I’m too lazy to mess around in the settings to find a way.  I’ll work on it more for the Edinburgh slideshow, but for this? Please hit the link above. It’s worth it for the little bird.

A New Year, A New Start (Coming Soon)

Howdy folks,
So we’ve been back from the UK for a week now and I am already counting down the days until summer! I thought the nosebleeds due to the dry air were bad enough (after using my hands to stem the flow while hurrying to the bathroom, I now know what I’d look like if I feasted straight from the flesh of a warm animal corpse. Haunting, I tell you, very haunting…also sort of badass), but then we drove home and were greeted by snow, freezing temperatures and horrible road conditions. Thanks Minnesota for that lovely welcome, we missed you too. Yep, after almost three weeks of a moderate English winter where the worst we experienced was a few blustery days that caused us to entertain the idea of wearing a second layer, we really needed that reality check the first day back in the US. The worst part is that the weather we have now isn’t even that bad. Oh the joys of living in the north.
*sigh*
Anyway, I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year! Although the celebratory closing of 2016 was rather uneventful for us (sadly I was too ill and too miserable to go anywhere), we had a wonderful time visiting my homeland.  Seeing family and old friends after over two years was awesome. Although we didn’t explore as much as we perhaps could have, Vanna and I did what we set out to do – visit as many people as possible. And on top of that, we did have a fantastic experience in Edinburgh near the end of our trip too. Saying goodbye again wasn’t much fun, of course, and the flight home was fairly arduous (not to mention the horribly abrupt return to work and responsibilities)…but it was all worth it. I don’t regret a single moment. Except for my decision not to bring more food with us. I do regret buying only the two boxes of wine gums. They did not last long at all.
Other than that, it was a truly great holiday. BUT, as much as I would like to tell you about everything we did, there isn’t actually that much to share other than our aforementioned trip to the Scottish capital, so I’ll spare you the details (what really can I say? We went and saw my family, ate British food, watched British TV and went to a few places that I’ve already blogged about before, such as Seaham and Hardwick Hall. Interesting to us, but to you? Not so much). Regarding Edinburgh, however that story will be uploaded soon; I’m still waiting on the pictures (Vanna went overboard) but I should be posting sometime within the next week. Our day in Edinburgh was the tourist/blog highlight to the trip, so please come back for that.
Beyond that, both Vanna and I are really focused on getting back to normal life. Her studies are going well, my work is fine (actually attended our Christmas party last night) and I’m slowly finding a balance to my waking hours. I mentioned in my last post about my goals for the future, including a minimum monthly post on the blog, and I still intend to achieve that goal. It probably wont result in the blog reaching the dizzying heights it had back when I had the freedom to post almost daily, but I think it will benefit me, and if there is one thing I’m good at, it’s doing things that benefit me.
And on that wonderful note, I’ll end this post. Only a quick announcement I know, but I have three weeks of no Xboxing to catch up with. And there will be pictures and more coming soon, so I reckon I can get away with a 600 word catch up.
All the best guys,
Alex

Just Let Me Blow Away The Cobwebs…

Howdy folks,

Well…it has been a long time since this blog was active, hasn’t it? I don’t even want to check when I last published something. I know it was after I purchased my tickets to the UK, and that was a long time ago now; after all, I’ve been working for what seems like years and my trip was planned shortly after I was employed at the lab. Yeah…it’s been a long time.

Anyway, I apologize for that. Despite the lack of activity on this site, the blog isn’t officially dead. It’s just that between work, sleep and Gears of War 4, I haven’t had the time or energy to do anything else. This past month has been especially exhausting because we’ve been working at least an hour overtime every day. Urgh. Busy doesn’t cover it. I blame the holidays. Thanks, Thanksgiving, for being a turkey paradise. You’re the reason I don’t get home until nine o’clock. Grr.

Oh well. On the plus side, despite my hectic schedule, things are going to change for the blog in the future. Or at least I’m hoping they will. Coming up fast is my aforementioned trip to the UK, which is less than a week away now, and wow, I can’t believe that it’s going to happen, I’m practically on the plane and it still hasn’t sunk in yet.

Ahem. Well, in addition to giving me the glorious opportunity to see my family for the first time in 2 ½ years, it’s also good news for the blog as both Vanna and I intend to take a lot of pictures! Most of our plans are TBD, but there is a trip to Edinburgh which we’re both excited for, so that should result in some fantastic pictures.

That’s only a short-term solution, however. Going forward, I have a goal for 2017 (New Year’s resolutions and all that), to write something for the blog at least once a month. I’m not sure what I’ll write about, but I want it to be something that takes more than a few minutes to write (i.e. not this post), something which will spark my creativity. After all, part of my reasoning for taking a hiatus from the blog was because I wanted to spend my free time working on my book. Well, that isn’t exactly working, so why don’t I change it up? Maybe blogging will become a catalyst to my writing. It can’t hurt, can it? And I miss writing about all of my complaints, like I used to in the old days (you know, pre-marriage, because now everything is perfect).

So yeah. Let’s see how that goes. I’ll uh, speak to you again soon…hopefully from the UK!

Alex